Monday, May 17, 2010

Need Or Scam?

Many, many summers ago, Chuck and I were sitting in our car on a street in Boston. We were chatting about where to head next when a man came up to the car window. He had a very specific story about how he came to be in need of some money and came off as quite credible. He promised to pay us back. Chuck decided to give him twenty dollars along with his business card. The man thanked him and promised he would send us the money the next day. Of course we never were repaid. After that experience we wished two things: the first, that we had not given him the money and the second, that we had absolutely not given him a business card. That guy was so smooth, we came to have the feeling that he was a “professional” con man or panhandler.

Over the years, I have been approached on numerous occasions in multiple locations. Each time a person, or, in one instance, a couple, has had a story of misfortune, followed by a request for money. Sometimes they have wanted me to drive them somewhere. In every instance I have said no. Once, at JFK Airport in New York, I was approached twice in the parking lot by the same person, but a couple of hours apart. After the second occurrence I reported him to security.

A few months ago, a man came up to us as we were about to exit our car to go into a restaurant in Worcester. He had an elaborate tale to tell, which ended with him stating that he needed us to give him money. We declined. In that instance he persisted and began to look angry. He did eventually walk away from us, but we stayed in our vehicle and ended up changing our plans and driving away.

This week, Chuck and I were in Worcester, headed back to our car after leaving a different restaurant with a to go order. Another man came up to us, asking us to do him a favor. He told a convoluted story. But the upshot was, he said he needed ten more dollars to get the cab fare to go home. We declined. He walked away.

I like to think of myself as a kind person, even generous. But I cannot bring myself to trust the strangers who approach me wanting money. Nor can I bring myself to believe the people who want me to drive them somewhere, whereupon I will be reimbursed for my gasoline and my trouble.

The terrible feeling I have after these encounters is that if the stories the strangers tell me are true, I would like to help them. But I don’t believe them. And I hate the nagging concern that I could have or should have helped out a fellow human being.


dancingmorganmouse said...

When we first moved to the 'big city' Mr Brown & I were walking home, were approached by a chap who told as a story about trying to get home, he only needed $2 to make up the fare, would we give him the $2? We did.
Of course we've been approached by dozens of chaps since then, all with the same, or similar story, we fell for it the first time but won't again.
Then there's the whole being a woman thing. I'll hand over change, if I've got a bit in my pocket, a couple of bucks, I don't mind. But there's no way on earth I'm opening my handbag, taking out my purse, opening my purse and taking out money, all in front of a stranger, a slightly dodgy stranger who could possibly snatch said purse and run. Someone I can't chase because (a) they might punch me (b) I tend to wear skirts and silly shoes! It's bad we have to think that way, but it safer.
Ignore the nagging feeling and help some other way, some way you know it's going to someone who does really need it. The Salvos for instance or the Red Cross.
Crikey, that was long!

GAIL said...

Yikes, I have never been approached by anyone asking me for money or a lift.

BTW, Happy Birthday!!!!!!!!!

Sue said...

Giving lifts to anyone is out of the question. I simply won't. And as for requests for cash, we have so many poor people here, it's second nature for people to beg. And not always with sad sob stories either. They're at the traffic lights these days, in parking areas, outside restaurants, ringing door bells and scratching through rubbish bins. Our bins are cleaned out on Tuesdays and I always make sure I leave whatever food I've put out on top of the bin for whoever's desperate (can you imagine sifting through someone else's dirt for food? My bin's got dog poo in it man! Added to all that, we have petrol attendants, grocery packers and car guards, who generally expect tipping for their services. If we gave to everyone who needed, there'd be nothing left for us...
And besides all of that, on our nearest bridge going onto the highway, there's a group who pretend to be beggers at the passenger window of your car and then smash your window to grab your handbag off the front seat.
As sad as it makes me, you just can't trust everyone and you've got to go with your gut without taking any persona risks.

Sue X

PS. Gail, I CANNOT believe you've never been asked for money or a lift. Come to Cape Town!!! Better yet: I need $3,500.00 for a premier class ticket on Virgin Atlantic to fly from Cape Town to New York. I'm a single mom, widowed and need money... hahaha - consider yourself begged of!!

GAIL said...

Hi Sue,

Truly, the closest I have come would be the Salvation Army at Christmas time and I do drop some money into their buckets.

That's a far cry from what you are describing!!

Also, as Lee wknows, I am a couch potato/homebody so the opportinity to be bothered is much less than the average person. :o)

Wendy said...

isnt it sad that all thse people ruin it for the few that really may need help. but its the way it is. I always go with my gut on these matters. I have lived in 2 places in my life where every one begs for money Cape Town and London so I am hardened to scamsters. I do give to the poor ppl though. dont feel bad lee, you are a kind lovely person

Pink Granite said...

Hi All -
Well you have certainly made me feel much better!
It helps to realize this is a universal problem - and that compared to some places (like Sue described) we are far from being constantly challenged.

Morgan, knowing you and Mr. Brown gave the first time, but not after and knowing that we're far from alone in choosing not to agree to these demands, helped a lot.

Wendy you point out the classic problem of the Boy Who Cried Wolf - just writ large into the entire society.

Rather than giving directly in these instances. we prefer to give to organizations such as the Women's Lunch Place, which provides daytime services for women and children who are in need and or homeless.

Gail, you can consider yourself "panhandled" by Sue - well sort of! It's true that your daily routine has not brought you into situations like I described. But that may have less to do with your being a homebody and more to do with your having worked in suburban business "campuses" for much of your career - not in more urban settings.

Thanks to everyone for contributing your experiences!
- Lee

Roo said...

I was once approached by someone asking for money to buy food, so instead of giving him the cash, I bought him a burger and a coffee, which he thanked me for. Now he may not have wanted it, but I flet I had done something.

Sue - I think you win on the generosity stakes by helping put those folks from Poland, you're a real star for that.

Nana Fi said...

Well you know my story where I was scammed well and good by someone I thought had "broken down". That was the end for me. However, I do give to the children that beg at our traffic lights, not always but I keep odd bits of change at the ready for that. I am afraid it is a sign of the times, many people have resorted to begging,but I do believe they could do other things to make a few bucks. I hope I never find myself in the situation that I have to beg for money, God forbid. xx Fiona