Dear PoPville – Change scammer – beware

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

“Dear PoPville,

I was just in Miss Pixies when a guy came up to me and tried to pull a change scam. It wasn’t the classic “shortchange” scam (aka “gypsy scam”) but a variation – luckily I knew enough to recognize it. But please let people know this guy seems to be working the area – looking for victims who are distracted shopping.

He came up to me with 4 $5.00 bills and asked me to change them for a twenty. He said he was a taxi driver. I asked why wouldn’t a taxi driver prefer smaller bills to give change to his riders. He said something about having to pay a tax or something at a kiosk and it wouldn’t take a 5 dollar bill – “You know DC. .. ” he said.

It still made no sense, but I looked at the notes and they weren’t counterfeit, so I took the 4 5’s and gave him a twenty. As I was putting the 5s in my wallet, he thrust a $1.00 bill at me and told me I had given him a $1.00 instead of a $20.00.

I knew this wasn’t true, since I had just put 2 20’s in my wallet before leaving home. I stepped back so he couldn’t snatch back the 5s and told him I knew I had given him a 20. He immediately said “yes of course, I know” and pulled my 20 out from under his arm where he had hidden it, and smoothly went on claiming he had asked me for 20 singles for the 4 5s.

I told him I knew he was trying to pull a scam and he turned and fled the store. I alerted the staff and pointed him out to them, they said he had been in the day before asking for change at the counter.

Everyone should be aware of the basic money changing scams and how to recognize them (go to youtube) as well as this particular criminal – Black man early 40s, 5’8″-5’10 medium/heavy build, bit of a gut, walks slightly bowlegged, wore a white cap, polo shirt & Bermuda shorts.”

61 Comment

  • Thanks for this heads-up.

    What’s the “classic ‘shortchange’ scam (aka ‘gypsy scam’)”?

    • This is when somebody asks for a larger bill in exchange for smaller bills, like a $20 for four $5’s. The scammer will initially show the four proper bills, and when the target is getting the money out of his/her wallet, the scammer will swap out one or two of the bills with smaller denominations, like a $1 bill for a $5. The scammer will then hand all of the bills over to the target in one stack, rather than counting out each bill, with the correct denomination bill(s) on top. By the time the target realizes what has happened, the scammer has bolted.

      • I fell for this in Dar Es Salaam as a young, dumb backpacker. I think I lost like $15, but at the time that was my food money for a couple of days.

        Ah well, $15 was probably a bargain for the experience gained, which has served me well.

    • Another twist on this is that out of the four bills, one or two may be counterfeit, but there are far more serious consequences to getting caught distributing fake money than simply ripping somebody off for a few bucks.

    • The “classic” shortchange or “gypsy” scam is when someone gives you a 20 bill and asks for change. You give him change, he puts it in his pocket then “accidentally” discovers he already in fact had small change, so he doesn’t need it after all and wants to change back ten. He then gives you only 9 back, takes your ten, tells you to count, you see it is only 9 – and after a bit more confusing back and forth – he walks off with an extra 10. It is usually done at counters. The above switch – trying to convince someone they gave a 1 instead of a 20 – is more often done to individuals – especially in shops where they are distracted.

  • This, unfortunately, is why I rarely help people. Scams like this are common in my home country, and if anyone approaches me for help here or there, I immediately put my hand over my wallet, take a look around to see if there are accomplices, and tell the guy I can’t help him.

    • This is why I don’t carry cash. The worst anyone can do is take my credit card, and unless they do it without me knowing it’ll be cancelled before they have a chance to really use it.

    • figby

      These scammers and others are often out in front of Whole Foods on P Street — left their keys in the car, borrow your phone, make change, etc. My technique is to talk to myself like I am crazy and keep walking.

  • He probably is a cab driver, though.

  • I’ve seen either exact that guy or the same scam both at CVS and at Yes Organics on 14th and U st. He tried the same thing, with 4 $5 and the same cab story.

  • He came into my business on U ST about 3 years ago with the same crap I tried to beat his ass he ran away. He tried to do it with a hundred on me.

  • Same thing happened to me, on U Street between 15th & 16th. Same guy. Similar story, wanted to change two $10s for a $20. I agreed and while I was fishing in my purse he starts chatting me up, clearly trying to distract me, then pulls out the $1. But he backed down quickly when I refused to give him back the $10s. Ah, DC. So hard to be a friendly citizen here.

  • I’m sure I’m subsidizing his Section 8 housing while he wanders the city trying to scam people with this idiot scam. Have a beer on me tonight bro!

    • Im sure Im subsidizing the student loans you took out in order to draw such an unbased conclusion.

      • Oh snap!

      • +1 million

      • Anon FTW.

        I mean, frak that guy for running a scam, sure.

        And I would (probably, depending on the details) support kicking people out Section 8 if they are convicted of a crime while in the program.

        But Kevin, I take from your comment is one of two things:

        1) You are using the fact that most criminals are poor to disingenuously (and incorrectly) suggest that most poor people are criminals.

        2) You are suggesting that most government benefits go to criminals (also incorrect).

        If I’m misinterpreting this, please make it clear.

        • Let’s clear one thing up right now. MOST criminals are not poor. Most criminals are rich as hell. They’re working on Wall Street and in Congress.

          • lets clear one thing up, when we are talking about crime on a blog like this, we are talking about street crime. crime that we can actually do something about. crime that is in our face and could cause us immediate physical harm and affects our levels of fear and community.

            so to be even clearer, yes, most criminals that we are talking about in this light are poor.

            there are many other places to discuss the criminal activities of wall street and congress, but this is one of the few places we can talk about street crime in dc.

  • I’ve seen a similar scam go down at the Post Office in Union Station. The employees there even spot him and loudly tell folks he has approached in the line to “take their business outside” as I’m assuming they can’t formally kick him out.

  • Hell I never pull my wallet out when someone asks for change, even if they might legitimately need change. I’m not afraid of short changers as much as I am of getting punched in the face and having my whole wallet stolen!

  • There’s also another guy outside of Gallery Place doing this same thing. He approached me the other day as I was leaving Smoothie King and I thought what he asked for sounded odd (two tens for a twenty). But I don’t carry cash on me and politely said Sorry and went about my way. I’ll know now to be more on the lookout for it.

  • I have been approached by a man matching this description in front of the YMCA at Rhode Island and 17th NW – same story about being a taxi driver and needing a $20 to change for his smaller bills. Sounds like he gets around the area.

  • Holy crap, that’s amazing that he’s attempted this so many times. How often could it possibly work to justify wasting so much time on it? The fact that he backs down so quickly once you catch on probably means he’s gotten his ass beat a few times as well.

  • I must say I’m a bit surprised that so many people still carry enough cash in small bills to make change for a Twenty.

  • Same thing happened to me down on H St NW near 17th a couple of years ago. I was surprised at how quickly the guy backed down and admitted what he was doing. He did have the nerve to ask me to swap him back his 4 $5 bills so he could perpetrate it on someone else. I declined.

  • You should work at the Secret Service, being able to affirmatively assess whether currency is counterfeit while someone else is holding it and only presumably only able to see a portion of each bill, if that.

    There is something fishy about this story. Best case scenario it was embellished after the exchange to make it more dramatic and the author more knowledgeable. Worst case, its completely fabricated, for some unknown reason.

    • Wow, you are paranoid.

      Given all the comments from people who have encountered this guy, or someone pulling the same scam, I doubt it was fabricated.

    • Well yeah – kind of weird & paranoid response! But for yuks – no, I doubt I could “assess whether currency is counterfeit” when dealing with $100.00 bills expertly printed on (pretty difficult to obtain) specialty paper with the holograms and security stripes (which any counter clerk at McDonalds is probably trained to do.)
      But I’m pretty sure most expert counterfieters don’t waste their efforts on $5.00 bills.

      I think most people could tell the sort of home-printed or photocopies that low-lever scammers would use.

      And why are you presuming I didn’t hold the bills? Try reading the post.

    • I said that was the worst case scenario, the most likely is embellishing. Its not paranoia, all counterfeit bills are not either made by the Russian Mob/government or appear to be stolen from a board game – there is a significant spectrum. Also, small bills are counterfeit.

      Either this is shawn spencer, or there’s embellishment. Nothing from the follow up post by the OP indicates otherwise.

      Its fine man, just say you almost got scammed – but this narrative of being cool and collected and assessing the situation and ruling out the “gypsy scam” and knowing there was nothing counterfeit is just silly.

  • you should work for the Bureau of Getting Totally Paranoid about Inconsequential Details. I think it’s part of the Department of Who Cares?

  • janie4

    Same thing happened to me today at 24th and M Street NW – guy asked for a twenty for two tens, I gave him a $20 and he tried to claim I’d given him a one. I told him flat out I knew I’d given him a $20, and he immediately backtracked and tried to claim he’d wanted twenty ones. He gave me my $20 back, and I gave him his tens. I was suspicious because he was really chatty and seemed to be trying to distrct me. He’s really busy.

  • This reminds me of the “gas can” guy who used to roam downtown years ago. He’d carry a gas can and say his car ran out and he needed a few dollars for gas. I once asked him to take me to his car and he pointed to some random car on the street so I then asked him to open it with the key and he finally gave up. I used to see him around all the time, but I guess he’s moved on because I haven’t seen him in years.

  • Psmitty311

    I had a similar scam happen about four or five years ago at Judiciary Square. The guy asked me if I had a $20 for two $10 bills. I didn’t know any better and gave him the $20 since I prefer smaller bills. He then flipped out that I had given him a $5 bill. I was caught off guard, but insisted that I hadn’t and he eventually gave up and moved on, but he didn’t stop shouting for a while longer.

    I think I’ve seen the guy most people are talking about on U St. Not the same guy OP saw, but maybe the same as others. I live around 9th and V NW and walk down Vermont every day to get to the 10th and U metro entrance. There is a guy who sleeps in the doorway of that school every night. He never says hello to me, but he also never asks for anything, so I always figured him to be harmless and nice enough. He looks like he takes care of himself (grooms his facial hair every morning using car windows for a mirror), but he does wear the same cloths every day, so he’s easy to spot in the neighborhood (gray slacks, black top).

    About a month ago, I saw him at the Gallery Place metro station working the exact same con OP mentioned. I was waiting for the Green line to get home, and he was walking down the row of people trying to get someone to give him a $20 bill for four $5 bills. He looked at me for a second, hesitated, and then moved on to the next guy. I guessed he had recognized me and didn’t want to scam someone who knew where he slept every night. I haven’t looked at him the same ever since.

  • who sticks around long enough for this? i’d direct this person to the nearest bank and kindly explain that my wallet is not a change machine.

  • If people stop me, I tell them I will give them advice,the time or directions, but not money, change, cigarettes, or signatures. 9 times out of 10 they just move right along.

    Protip: headphones in your ears with the cord trailing into a bag – attached to nothing – gives you the legitimate “I don’t hear you” ignore-pass while allowing you to be aware of your surroundings at all times.

  • A thief posing as a cab driver? The only difference between this an everyday life in DC is that this one wasn’t behind the wheel.

  • Good call, that way they know where to pick-pocket you later! In london some pick-pocketers actually put up signs warning of pick-pocketers, when people put their hands on their wallets to check and make sure they still had them, the thieves knew exactly where to look!

  • I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even respond to people on the street as I’m walking. Stopping doesn’t seem worth the potential hassle/scam.

  • Same guy did the exact same thing to me on 6th and h st by gallery place. Had two tens and wanted a twenty….. Was a cab driver…. Swapped my 20 with a one dollar bill…etc…. This happened 1.5 months ago.

  • same thing happened to me in front of union station a couple years ago. same guy, sounds like — wanted a $20 for 2 $10s. and then after he ripped me off, he tried to get me to get in his car with him, which he claimed to have parked around the corner, to give me a free ride home. i cut my losses and got the hell out of there.

  • Rule #1 never pull money out on the street EVER.

  • Same with me – two $10s for a $20 on the corner of U Street and 15th sometime in spring. Same guy or at least same description. Then he asked me how to get to Bladensburg. If I see him again I’m going to restrain him by the ear grandmother-style until he gives me his mother’s phone number.

  • Same guy. Dupont Circle 2 years ago. Asked 2 10s for a 20. Luckily I had given him my last 20 at the time. So I KNEW I had given him a 20.

  • I got screwed by this last week. I was completely distracted with my girlfriends.

  • A guy tried to pull the same scam on me today in Han Time Engraving (a watch shop) on 14th and L St. NW. He asked for a $20 for his two $10 bills; I remarked that people usually want smaller bills, and he said that he needed the $20 for a lottery machine. I knew it was probably a scam but was curious, so I took and examined the tens carefully and made sure I held onto my wallet as I handed him a $20. A moment later, he held out a $1 and said, “I asked you for a $20!” I replied that I knew I’d given him a $20 and that I was going to call the cops, and he fled.

    He was a ~50-year-old African-American man, about 5’10” and average, wearing a red jacket and a cap.

  • Wouldn’t it be kind of fun to just hand the guy a $1.00 bill instead of a $20 to begin with? Especially if you could get away with his cash!

  • Same thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago on Rhode Island at the 7-11 near Florida Avenue (I think). Cab driver, two $10s for a $20. Then he said I gave him a $1. Asked me for directions to distract me the whole time. The craziest part was this little old lady in a cab pulled up so close to my driver’s door that I couldn’t get in. I hollered at her until she moved while the cab driver scammer was doing his thing. I had a hunch they could have been working together, or coincidence. But really, a little old lady in a cab? Whatever the case, I walked away after telling him, “I’m not playing this game with you”.

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