Saturday, July 21, 2007

Make Easy Money: Become a Scam Artist Today!

Apparently scamming people for money via panhandling is totally legal. So, if your morals don't dissuade you from it, I suggest going out and scamming your local kind folk!

Perhaps some background is in order, eh? About a month or two ago, I was walking downtown on 5th Avenue with my friend Shane when this guy in a suit stopped us. He said that his story was a little embarrassing, but his car had run out of gas. He said he would be happy to show us his ID (for what? I dunno), but he would really appreciate it if we could spare some cash for just a gallon of gas to get home. I'm very distrustful of strangers, but Shane had barely finished listening to his story before he gave him a $10 bill. The guy thanked him and walked off.

Shane and I discussed a bit about how it's hard to tell the motives behind strangers asking for money. But we both agreed that a well-dressed person seemed less likely to go spend begged money on booze or drugs. We left the conversation at that, and went on about our evening.

Fast forward to today. I was walking back home along 6th Avenue when a guy in a suit stopped me. (Sound familiar?) He launched into his "slightly embarrassing" story about how his mom was in from Spokane and for some reason her credit cards were frozen and they just needed a little cash for something or other. I had this very strong feeling of deja vu, then I recognized this guy and his sob story from before! I backed away while he was still trying to convince me to be charitable, and I told him I thought I'd seen him before. He denied it, of course, but I didn't feel like debating his scamminess with him. So I just kept walking, and he walked off the other way.

When I got home, I looked up the non-emergency police number for Seattle and reported the guy. The woman on the phone politely informed me that, unfortunately, panhandling was not a crime unless it's aggressive. This scammy-suit-man was nothing if not polite. So I apologized for taking up the woman's time, and I hung up.

At least I can blog about it and try to warn my Seattle friends about this guy.

Update: According to Wikipedia, this is (unsurprisingly) a well-known con:

Just $5: this is an abuse of charity scam: the conman approaches the victim and asks for "just $5" to help them achieve some goal that is almost within reach. The conman displays cash to prove they have "almost enough" and usually adds some props/window-dressing to add veracity: carrying a car part that needs repair/replacement or carrying a gas can (because the car ran out of gas and the wife/child is waiting). The victim frequently gives double or triple the amount requested or more. Couples are the preferred target: the wife for sympathy, the husband often pays out of nobility.


John Cowan said...

Gale and I wound up giving a scammer $20 for the New York City version of this scam ("I need trainfare to get home"). We didn't see the guy again but heard from a neighbor that he was still working the scam a week later.

Oh well, the story he told (very circumstantial) was easily worth $20 to us at the time.

Apropos of that, I don't give people money who supposedly want it for food, but if I have time I will take them into a deli and say "Order what you like". Some accept, some refuse. Nobody has tried to bankrupt me yet.

John Cowan said...

My very favorite #1 scam ran in the Los Angeles Times many years ago: