Jeff Billings, owner of Billings Tire Co. in Tyler, wasn't too surprised when workers from a trucking company, which had been one of the 33-year-old tire dealership's wholesale accounts for years, asked for six tires.
What was unusual, he said, was when the company said it never got an invoice for the tires that had been charged to its account. Mr. Billings showed them his copy of the receipt, and no one recognized the workers' names.
``We were all concerned,'' said Mr. Billings, whose dealership sells Michelin, Uniroyal, BFGoodrich and Ultima brands.
The dealership was one of four tire companies local police say were the target of an alleged tire-buying scam. Two men have been arrested in connection with the plot, and police say they don't expect more arrests. A trial date has not yet been set for the men.
Lt. Larry Wiginton of the Smith County Sheriff Department said the two men allegedly went to the dealerships saying they worked for another local company and needed to buy a few tires. The cost of the tires was charged to the company the men said they worked for, Mr. Wiginton explained.
The friendly practice between the neighboring businesses had been established for quite some time, he said. He declined to identify all of the companies involved.
``That was a heck of a scam,'' he said.
Mr. Billings said the local dealers generally knew each other and were willing to help each other out in a bind.
``We left ourselves open for this,'' he said.
The suspected scam started to unravel when dealers began calling each other, questioning the charges, Mr. Wiginton said.
Mr. Billings said he was asked for the six tires in December, and the sheriff department recovered the tires in early January. Mr. Wiginton said more than 10 tires were recovered, and local media reports valued the recovered merchandise at about $5,000.
Mr. Wiginton said businesses can protect themselves from a similar scam by communicating with the other company.
``Call the other company and make sure,'' he said. ``Communication is a big key.''
Mr. Billings said he already is being more cautious even with the local retailers he's known for years. He said now if someone needs tires billed to another account, he'll call the company back and make sure it's OK with someone he knows.
``We're just going to pay a little bit more attention to what we're doing, who we're talking to,'' he said.
Still, Mr. Wiginton said, it's hard for businesses to protect against any scam that might come up.
``I've been in this business 16 years, and I have not seen one like that before,'' he said.