Dear PoP

Hey PoP,
Around 11 PM last night, a man came to our front door asking for money.

He knocked, and I opened the door. He explained he needed cab fare to get to his parents (who are apparently our across-the-street neighbors, the Smiths (Ed note: name changed by PoP) who were in a car crash and in the hospital located in PG County. Though I should have ended this conversation immediately (feeling like a heel at this point for opening the door in the first place), I went to get my roommate.

Unfortunately, my roommate was generous enough to slip this man $40. Though I don’t think my roommate expects to see the money again, I almost expect to see that man again.

Have you encountered anything like this in our neighborhood? Any thoughts, advice, etc? I feel slightly inclined to call the
non-emergency number in hopes they might have someone keep an eye out on our block for a little while. The more I think about this, the closer to 100% certain I am that his story was complete and utter crap…

I’m having visions of someone sneaking up behind me on my way to my front door and pulling a knife on me for my wallet. Please let me know what you think about this.



Response after the jump.

Dear Concerned,

First and foremost I am sorry to hear that have been put in this situation. But as far as personal safety is concerned I think you will be 100% ok. I’ve had people make up these stories to me near the metro quite frequently and I too believe it is probably totally BS. In the future I definitely wouldn’t give him or anyone else who comes to your home money at 11pm. But I really think that’s all it is. I don’t think this person will rob anyone. I think you can call 311 and report it if it will make you feel more comfortable. They probably can’t do anything but it could be good to have it on record. I suppose it is possible that he is telling the truth. Have you ever seen him before? Can you ask any of your neighbors if they’ve seen him before or know if the Smiths have a son? Keep your porch light on if you have one. Again, sorry to hear about the trouble this is causing but I think the guy just got $40 and is of no harm to anyone.


So what do you guys think? Would you have given $40 at 11pm? Do you think the story is sincere? I know you want to do the right thing in that situation but sometimes you have to err on the side of safety. What’s your advice?

33 Comment

  • Well not at my door. But I once had a guy in Adams Morgan give me the whole story about how his car was towed and he needed to get to North Potomac, etc. etc. I don’t think I really believed it, but I did give him $20 or maybe $40. And no I wasn’t drunk. But I realized afterward that that was a stupid maneuver.

    When I lived in SF there was this guy that would drive around with a Tercel with no windows and pulll up to random intersections and give this whole story about how he just went to his car and all his windows were broken and everything stolen and that he needed money for gas to get across the Bay Bridge to his home in the East Bay. And the first time I saw the whole thing go down — I thought that it was strange. But the second time (perhaps a week later), I walked up to the people who were being propositioned and was like “don’t give him money, I saw him do the same thing last week.” The guy gave me a dirty look and then jumped in his car.

  • Unfortunately, the ‘desperate traveler’ or ‘person in need of money to get home/safety/redemption’ is a very common story used by grifters and gypsies alike. Sad as it may be, many people who may be in such a situation will be denied help form a stranger (like me) because of the many people who frivolously encroach on this desire to help fellow man/woman. To my mind, I have a very astute way of separating out the flakes. It’s simple actually. The way to do it is by engaging in a conversation with the person. Asking detailed questions about their situation is great because most people who are really in need and are not comfortable with this sort of vulnerability and will be willing to bear it all in an attempt to justify it. The less-than-honest on the other hand, will be vague and reluctant in their responses. Additionally, if you wish to be so bold as to administer the final test, you can offer the person a ride to their supposed destination, in this case a hospital in PG county, which for someone who is lying this will be quite out of the way but far enough to request a large sum of money. This will certainly determine if the person is telling the truth because if they are, they will most likely accept the offer, if they are lying such a proposal would not only eliminate their chances of receiving money but also place them physically in a location that is less than optimal and will undoubtedly illicit a lame-o excuse as to why they actually need the money instead of just a ride (this assuming the person is remotely clever enough to come up with an excuse in the first place otherwise they will just react comically). **Warning. I by no means encourage the attempt of this final test because of its obvious dangers.** The simple act of conversation however, should be enough to help you make a better decision if you should actually give them money or slam the door right in their lying face.

  • I have been taken advantage of twice, the first time some one knocked on my door and it was a guy I had seen around the neighborhood, and he needed bus fair to get to his job. He was in work . I gave him $5 and I told him I expected to get paid back. So a month later he knocked on my door and I thought….Oh! he must be coming to pay me back. I politely told him why I was not ever going to give him another dime and he left.

    A few months later my Car was broken into and I was told he had done it. My neighbor told me that the “boys” (AKA drug dealers) did not like crack head breaking into the neighbors cars because it causes to much attention to the area, so they “took care of him”

    I never saw him again.

    The second time some one was broken down on the side of the road and went on and on about some specific parts he needed to fix his car and how all he needed was $2.85 to fix it. I gave him $3 and then he immediately asked for more. This time I was not polite.

  • I would never give any money to anyone I didn’t know, much less $40. Even if the story was genuine (which it wasn’t), he couldn’t ask anyone else? He just happened to knock on some random neighbors door in the middle or the night?

    A fool and his money are soon parted.

  • This is a very common technique to scam people and taking advantage of people’s kindness. This is not only in Petworth or DC, this is in the whole nation, perhaps the whole world.

    In New York, in my college campus I was approached by, white young man, who explained to me that he and his girlfriend were out of town. While driving their car broke down. Now he needs some money to go to friend’s house to get some cash to repair the car, and if I could help with some cab fare.

    Most of people will avoid him at them point, or give him some money, but
    I asked him that how come he had no money? He said he said he did not have cash, unfortunately. So I told him, shouldn’t you lend from your girlfriend, instated of begging to strangers. He said that his girl friend did not have any cash either. I told him that I can tell him where the nearest bank is, and he or his girl friend can get some cash from the bank. He looked shocked, and for a few second he could figure out what to say to me. Finally he said that none of them has a bankcard or credit card.

    I told him that, it looks like he and his girlfriend has every intention in creating a scenario in getting in trouble, I cannot help him, and I walked way.

    About three month later the same person stopped me on the street, and start telling me that he and his girlfriend is from out of town, and their car broke down. Immediately, I stopped him, and told him to let me finish rest of the story for him. Then I told him the detail story he told me last time. There was a shocking expression on his face, and he quickly walked way without saying a single word.

  • PoP, be careful…as we get closer to the Christmas and gift giving season we will be more vulnerable to these types of scams.
    Often times thieves will use scams like this to figure out who they think “the rich” people are it sometimes leads to further harassment and at worst robberies. when the holidays come around i usually am on guard more than usual because thieves are looking for the folks who might have sympathy on them and/or waiting for someone to slip up.

  • I had one of my less mentally stable (but harmless) neighbors knock on my door at 930am and ask me to pop some popcorn in my microwave for him… which I declined.

  • $40 should get the guy some decent drugs, so at least he was happy last night.

  • When beggers ask me for change, I just tell them that I only have 20s. Either that or I say, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English,” in a very clear and articulated way. They will be confused for long enough for you to keep walking by. Seriously though, I have been scammed by these folks and it is human nature for people to wanted help others. In the end, we aren’t helping anyone by giving cash. I like to give these folks granola bars or other individually wrapped items that are easy to carry. I’ve even been turned down by a guy saying that he just ate and wasn’t hungry. Go figure.

  • When we first moved into our house, our next door neighbor came over one night with some story about needing cab fare. Trying to be nice neighbors, we gave her some money. From then on she would come over every couple days with some new story. By then we had learned she was a crack whore. She had found our weekness once and tried to exploit it over and over. Fortunately she finally moved out and now we have good neighbors. The problem with giving money out of charity like that is that it is not going to be a one time deal. I fully expect this guy to visit you many more times.

  • I wouldn’t give $40 to my mother.

  • … even if she asked nice.

  • Giving money to someone with an addiction, every once in awhile, is an act of kindness. Refusing to give them money due to their crappy ass story isn’t going to cure them of their addiction, but giving them 20 bucks might get them through the night.

    If you’ve ever been addicted to anything or known what it’s like for something bad to have power over you, you know how incredibly difficult and painful it can be.

    I give when I can.

  • You shouldn’t be afraid of this guy robbing you – he doesn’t have to, all he has to do is ask!

    But it was funny a few weeks ago I was on the other side. I was riding the Red line and didn’t know what stop i should get off at to get to Montgomery mall. I asked a guy going to work who refused to even let me ask the question. He seemed to think I was going to scam him. But honestly, all I asked was if he knew what stop I should use to get to the mall. I know people are afriad/uncomortable to talk to strangers, but we should be confident to say no too.

  • You can also tell the person needing “help” to wait just a minute, let me call the police so they can help you. It usually makes them decide they don’t need help!

  • Does anyone know of any organizations in DC that sell non-cash items you can give to panhandlers? Specifically, I remember you used to be able to give McDonald’s bathroom tokens to people. It would be interesting if you could donate money to specific soup kitchens, shelters, etc. in return for meal tickets, beds, bathroom/shower facilities, etc. you could give to panhandlers instead of money.

  • Jay: I was going to say the same thing, why would someone resort to robbery when, apparently, there are a lot of rich folk that will just hand cash over to them?

    I’m contemplating going to my rich neighbors on the corner and asking for some money since my TV went on the fritz and I can’t watch Golden Girls reruns anymore.

    Also, what are you gonna report to 311? “Hi, I spontaneously give money to strangers, can you help me?”


  • Perplexed: It probably is a major pain to barter McDonald’s bathroom tokens for a blast.

  • I’m currently living in London (usually live in Petworth) and see these scams all the time. It’s a global thing. Over here, a lot of people ask that you donate to a charity (their daughter’s charity). When you ask some questions or offer to pay the next day, they come up with other excuses why they need the cash today. In my experience, these people are harmless.

  • Dago,
    Do you have a Visa to work in London? I’d really like to move there, and need some tips as to how to make it happen!

    PS — I would NEVER open my front door at 11PM to a STRANGER! I would pretend that I never heard the knocking. You people are foolish.

  • Come on! I wouldn’t have even opened the door, much less given the person money. If at all possible, I would have not let the stranger know I was home at all.

    Ever heard of people forcing their way into your house when you open the door? I do – even in the local police reports.

    You got scammed, and frankly, you got lucky that they didn’t try to get more out of you or your house.

    Why do people have such a hard time saying no?

  • I never carry cash. I always use a credit card (which I pay off every month) or a debit card for purchases. OK, maybe I’ll have $5 in my wallet. If someone asks me for money, I always say, I’m sorry, I don’t have any, in a sympathetic voice. Once I got mad at someone asking and said, why don’t you give me some money? I got kids, etc. As for the I need money to take a cab, visit my sick mother, get my car out of the shop, all lies. (Please don’t tell me it’s sometimes true.) People just want to get high and I’m not financing it.

  • There’s a guy on the street who asked me for some change just today. He had a crumpled-up Dunkin Donuts bag next to him that he was eating out of. All I could think is, dang, man, I haven’t even had breakfast myself yet. How about you give me a piece of that donut.

    I’m not giving money to panhandlers. First, I’m not going to dig through my purse on the street, because I feel like that’s just asking to get mugged. And, just to help an addict get through the night? Thank god, I’ve never been addicted to anything, but I have many family members who have been, and I’ve lived through seeing them almost kill themselves with drugs and alcohol. I’m not going to help someone else’s father/son/mother/daughter destroy himself or herself. Sorry. No one is getting high with my money.

    As for opening the door to a stranger at 11 p.m. — that’s crazy talk. Please don’t ever do that again. I may not even open the door for someone I *know* at 11 p.m. Though, funny story; a crackhead neighbor of mine, thankfully now moved on, did knock on my door at 2 a.m. I did open the door because I knew her, and because I was not yet city-hardened, and she asked me if I “did hair.” Um, no.

  • And I mean that…I remember walking passed the liquor store on Georgia Avenue a man came out with a purchase in a black plastic bag. Laughing at a joke the clerk had told him while lighting a cigarette. He saw me, carefully took the cig from his lips and held it and the bag behind his back to beg me for money. You gotta be kidding. I’m walking home from CK because I’m pinching pennies and now wondering if I really look stupid or something. “What, now you need money for ice and olives?”

    Loved the guy that knocked on my door and was wanting money for the “Hellen Keller Society”. I asked him to show me a card or some ID. He pulled this card from his shirt. He had carefully sketched an old woman–Helen I suppose–in pencil on the back of someone elses business card. The woman had on reading glasses. Nice Try.

  • sean — i tried the “i only have twenties” line a few times, but was once confronted by the requestor, and he demanded one of the twenties. since then, i decline to advertise how much money i have on me. i’m often approached for money (who isn’t?), and sometimes give a buck or two, and sometimes i don’t. it depends on my mood, the story, my bank account. people “trying to get home” with those “i just got out of jail” cards are actually soft-spots for me, and generally get a dollar.

    when i lived in brooklyn, my roommate and i often donated money and food to a super-sweet neighborhood crack addict we were pretty sure had AIDS. the man was pretty out of it most of the time, but nice, and harmless, and just liked to talk. and he repaid the favor a few times, by breaking into our apartment for a ten spot when we’d locked ourselves out.

    many homeless people are pretty gifted with the art of hustling, but that doesn’t mean they all deserve to be in the place they are, or that they all really want to take advantage of you.

  • I was just approached on Wednesday in the parking lot at Costco by a middle-aged man and a cheerful looking little girl of about 9 or 10. I saw him talking to another guy and he seemed to be asking directions. When the guy walked off the other guy and the kid walk up to me. He thrust a beat up index card at me with a very carefully handwritten story about how he didn’t speak
    english, was unemployed, had 5 children and his wife (the breadwinner) was deathly ill so he wanted know if I would give him money. Unfortunately for him I had seen this scam many times while working at the old Hechts downtown. It’s always an adult with, at least, one kid in tow and the story is always the same. It always happens around the holidays because these people want to take advantage of peoples’ “holiday spirit”.

    Offer to buy them a couple of Happy Meals or try to direct them to a shelter and watch how fast they exit, stage left.

  • I make it my policy to never give cash. I have been approached on more than one occasion and offered to walk over to the nearest eating establishment and buy food, or give them a ride to where they need to go. Do you know I’ve NEVER been taken up on my non-cash offer?

  • Oh my god, that is the oldest one in the book. Not only was it not true, but he was also casing your house and now knows you and your roommate are a total suckers. Be extra careful during the next few months to keep everything locked up tight and don’t ever, ever fall for that trick again. And never open the door when you don’t know the person knocking no matter what they look like. People get held up at gunpoint on the street all of the time. Imagine opening the door and finding that the person has a gun and pushes you immediately into the house. It happened to someone I know in in a very similar situation and it ended very, very badly. Make strangers explain themselves through a locked door. Oh boy, please take care and exercise more street smarts. I don’t mean to further victimize you, but you really need a wake up call!

  • Opening the door in the middle of the night to a stranger is just plain dumb.

    The day after my girlfriend and I moved into our current apartment, a neighborhood kid stopped me outside and asked if I had $3 so he could get something to eat. I told him I didn’t have any money on me. He got rather bold and asked if I had any in the house. I told him no and then asked who he lived with and if he could get something from them. He hasn’t approached me since.

  • You are damn lucky that something worse didn’t happen. Your roommate lost $40, but you both should learn that what you did was incredibly stupid. In a perfect world, everyone would be generally honest and with good intentions. But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in DC. Opening the door for a perfect stranger is stupid; it could have quickly cost you your lives. When someone you don’t know knocks on the door at 11pm, you don’t answer it. Consider this a $40 lesson.

  • It doesn’t matter whether someone knocks at 9am, 2pm or 11pm. Don’t ever do this again. These people always give a neighbor’s name (which is easy to find by looking in a mailbox, the trash, etc) to lend credibility to their story. As the person goes down the street hussling money, they get more and more details about the neighbors from each sucker, making the story seem more and more real. Don’t ever open the door to these people. Don’t ever give them money. Don’t give them any information about yourself or your neighbors. If anything, keep them talking through the closed door and call the cops. Incidentally, these are not generally street people or homeless people who run this sort of scam. They are professional crooks. And some are truly dangerous and are interested in more than just money.

  • WOW..that guy at Costco with the little girl. That means its xmas time. They stopped me too last week. Tuesday. Funny. When folks say they are down on their luck and lost their job, I offer them a spot washing dishes at the restaurant. I’ve never had a taker. I pay $8 an hour to start. I’ve had folks drop their card board sign and run.

  • Last week I saw a bum get out of a cab and proceed to take a spot on the corner holding his cup!

Comments are closed.