Scam or Truly in Distress?

Photo by PoPville flickr user blueiris2006

Dear PoPville,

I am a resident of Cleveland Park. Last night after hopping off the bus, I was approached by a woman who explained to me that she had been in a car accident, her car had been towed, she lives in Stafford, VA, and is newly employed at the National Zoo in communications. After a long back and forth with me about her situation, which included having recently moved here from Atlanta, people at work and in the city not being friendly, her mother being a cop without a cell phone number she was “allowed to have”, her daughter being stuck in daycare in Stafford, and not knowing anyone in the city, she asked me for $140 to take a 2 hr. cab ride home to VA.

I know in writing this whole thing sounds ridiculous, and anyone would have said no and walked away, but I felt terrible. She was crying, and genuinely seemed lost and helpless. I suggested several alternatives, like asking her daughter’s daycare to foot the bill for the cab (especially since she pays them every day to take care of her daughter), but she insisted the nanny would not comply. After I kindly refused to give her the total sum, she asked for any cash towards a ride home. She even offered to let me pay the cab driver directly, and give me her ss# to track her down at her work tomorrow! She was even wearing a work badge! Still, something didn’t feel right, so I apologized again and went on my way. She closed our conversation with some mention of knowing that there are other good Christians like her out there who would be willing to give her the money, and that I’m the one who will have to live with this.

I noticed as I was walking away that she had immediately approached another young woman to explain her situation to new ears. I am wondering – did anyone else speak to her last night in Cleveland Park? Did anyone give her any money? I am feeling guilty but of course did not want to be naive and give cash to a stranger. Thoughts?

128 Comment

  • “She closed our conversation with some mention of knowing that there are other good Christians like her out there who would be willing to give her the money, and that I’m the one who will have to live with this.”

    My gut feeling is that someone who was genuinely in need would understand that this was a huge favor to ask from a complete stranger, and would not be trying to make you feel guilty when you refused.

    • Agreed. The minute they start in with the guilt trip, you can be assured that it is a scam. Scammers usually try to target the guilt trips to the person they’re talking to. As a white woman, I get the sob stories about the “wife and kids” or being pregnant, or, if I continue to refuse, diatribes about how white people don’t care about black people (if the scammer is black).

      • Ha! Yep, I’ve gotten that kind of line before. A preppy-looking young African-American man approached me at Penn Station in Baltimore by saying “Hey listen, I know I’m black, but don’t worry I’m not a criminal!” before launching into a story about how he’s visiting on a break from college, lost or pickpocketed wallet, stranded at Penn, his mother’s a professor at Morgan, but not answering her phone, etc etc. I was like, um yeah, playing on the white guilt is a nice touch, but save that con for the tourists. Whatever else you can say, grifters like that tend to be clever and well-practiced…they know exactly how to play to their targets’ sympathies, weaknesses, and foibles.

  • Seriously? This is the oldest story in the book.

  • Scam. You did the right thing.

  • This is a scam. I was approached by the same woman with the same story in the same area over a year ago.

    • Curious – isn’t it a crime to impersonate a Federal Employee?

      • Communications employees at the zoo would most likely work for FONZ, which is a non-profit organization that handles the guest relations aspects of running the zoo

    • I was also approached by the same woman about 6 months ago. Exact same story. Her work badge is stolen! Different woman, they look like her though right? I was SO CLOSE to giving her like $160 omg. The tears she shed on my sweatshirt totally seemed real–it made me feel terrible for like a day! But I’m glad I was right that she was scamming…to bad it took an hour from my life I’ll never get back.

  • This was a scam. I have heard that last part about there being “other good Christians” when I refuse to give money. Right then I know it is a scam and all they are doing is trying to guilt me in giving money.

    I had one woman claim that she was with a youth tour group but because she was pregnant and had diabetes, she ended up passing out and going to the hospital. The group supposed had left her behind and the hospital released her with a can of orange soda and the clothes on her back. She wanted me to go to an ATM and take out money so she could take the bus to meet up with her group. When I refused, she yelled and said I was going to kill her baby. I find the longer and more complex a story is, the more likely it is a scam.

  • If this is a legit problem, then you would go to a co-worker (even new ones) for help, not random strangers on the street.

  • I’ve heard a variation of this same story from what sounds like the same woman a few weeks ago over by Union Station. Despite reasonable alternatives I offered, she kept suggesting cash. You made a good call, but I felt guilty too.

    • The one time I helped someone that was legitimately in need – a young woman that had basically run away from a bad situation in Waldorf and found themselves basically stranded in DC- they never asked for money.

  • I’ve been approached by a woman multiple times in the downtown area with close to this exact story. Don’t feel bad; you didn’t get scammed

  • My guess is that 99.99% of people in this town that ask for money really have no plans to use the money for the reason they are asking for. This town is full of con artist.

    • How is this not inherently obvious to people?

      Here’s a rule: if people come up to you on the street and ask you for money, it’s a scam!

      If you feel guilty about being that absolutist, donate to local charities!

      • I totally agree with you!

      • “Here’s a rule: if people come up to you on the street and ask you for money, it’s a scam!”

        I have also found that “Can I ask you a question?” is always a prelude to a request for money (although generally lower-end panhandling, not someone trying to scam you for a large amount of money).

        Anyone who has a legitimate question — “How do I get to ____ Metro station?” “Where is the ______?” — will just ask the question. They might preface it with “Excuse me,” but not with “Can I ask you a question?”

        • I regularly see groups of teenagers on Metro with clipboards. They ask anyone who will listed, “Can I ask you a question?” I always ignore them and keep reading my book when they approach me.

          • Are the kids with clipboards (usually Boys and Girls Club) really scammers? They come door to door as well, I think.

          • saf

            Yes they are. Boys and Girls clubs do not solicit on the street, or on the metro.

            And the ones who are “earning points for college,” are also scammers.



            “Fraud/Unauthorized Solicitations

            BGCGW has been the target of an increased number of fraudulent activities that include local on-foot solicitations and most recently on-line check scams. We would like to share this information in the event that you, a family member, colleague of friend may have been approached or unknowingly asked to participate in or donate to such unauthorized activities.

            BGCGW has already notified local authorities and are currently developing internal safeguards to limit these types of transactions in the future. Our goal is to protect the integrity of our brand and discourage any unauthorized third party use of our name, image or likeness. Any information that you may have leading to the identification of individual(s) or organizations involved in this kind of illegitimate solicitation would be greatly appreciated and held in the strictest of confidence. In order to protect yourself please review the following information.

            BGCGW is not affiliated with any on-foot individuals or street vendors that sell goods for the purpose of raising money for our clubs or related programs. These merchants are often found soliciting in front of high foot-traffic establishments, such as major grocery stores, drug store chains, metro stations and home improvement retail outlets among others. They are usually young males between the ages of 8-18 and carry ID placards which at first glance seem to be legitimate BGCGW business identification. Often times the sales pitch will include the name of a club or team that is supposedly affiliated with BGCGW and that the funds will go to securing uniforms, pay for team travel, or other related expenses. The items sold are candies, cookies or in some cases counterfeit or “bootleg” CD’s and DVD’s.

            Please do not give monetary donations to any on-foot solicitors thinking that your donations go directly to our organization, they do not. These types of solicitations while used with other non-profit organizations, are not part of BGCA or BGCGW’s authorized fundraising efforts. Please visit our website at for more information on sending donations to our organization in a secure manner via the web or regular mail.

            Do not accept any “on-line check cashing exchange fee” offers from individuals or organizations that falsely claim they represent the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. Please contact us at 202-540-2335 if you have received such offers. These transactions are fraudulent and part of an on-line scam targeting unsuspecting donation givers across the country.:

        • In the few decades I’ve lived hear, I often hear the “Can I ask you a question?” opener to scams; maybe its a scam-culture thing in the city. Just the other day someone at Navy Yard some woman walked up and gave me a “Can I ask you a question?” and I replied “You just did, you only get one a day”.

        • This is 100% right. Most people walk up to and just ask, “Do you have the time?” “Is the store that way?” Avoid the opening qualifier.

      • I think the scam is obvious to people 99% of the time, but in my experience based on people who’ve approached me, the secret to (occasional) success for these bigger-ticket scammers (as opposed to the numerous semi-disheveled looking guys who’ve approached over the years me mumbling something generic about losing their wallet and needing a few bucks for bus fare) is exactly that they don’t look like an addict or a crazy person or a con artist (or the stereotypical mental picture we have of those). I think the few times that people second-guess their insticts, it’s because the scammer looks and acts so much like them–clean-cut, professionally-dressed, well-spoken, etc.–that it makes the target wonder if this could maybe, possibly be the *one* time the distress is legit.

      • ledroittiger

        Feeling guilty is not a good reason to give people money. Charities included.

  • I was told exactly the same story a year or so ago. Sad to say the woman is scamming.

  • Blithe

    SCAM!!! The pitch to guilt is a good clue – even if you viewed the other details as being even remotely compelling.

  • you could offer to call the police for their assistance.

    • Great idea. If she was truly in need, the police could help her out in a situation like this. And I’m sure she would hightail it away from you as soon as she mentioned the cops.

      Unfortunately, she probably would use that $140 to pay for a few days of whatever habit she has.

      Can the OP provide a physical description of the con artist? Race, age, height, clothing, etc.?

      • She was a middle-aged Black woman, probably in her late 30s, early 40s. Tall, maybe 5’9″. White/Khaki capri pants. Close talker. She said she had been trying to catch a ride with anyone with VA plates, and when I left said she would continue to try to find someone. She said she lived 3 counties from the furthest Metro stop.

    • Best approach – although I usually suggest we walk into the nearest business and ask them to call the police (as opposed to pulling out my cellphone in a potential snatch ‘n grab situation).

  • Perhaps I had a run in with the same folks. My husband and I ran into a woman in Cleveland Park on our way to dinner last year. She said her child had cancer and they needed money for her treatment. I felt uneasy by her instantly and saw her some time later at the Friendship Heights metro. After some internet research, I learned that she and her husband were “professional beggars” take a look at these links and see if you think they fit the description.

    The woman had very long hair, a pretty face, sort of looked like a hippie. Perhaps they are now changing their story.

  • Scam. Next time offer her a ride, see what she says.

  • In these sorts of situations, you’ll never really know if it’s a scam, so you just have to trust your instincts. It sounds like your gut was probably rightfully telling you something was off about her story. If she was actually telling the truth about the situation, it seems very strange that she was focused on a $140 cab ride and hadn’t thought to try to get a ride in a slug line or take the VRE train. Both of those would have gotten her much closer to home for considerably less money – if she were asking people for $5 towards a train ticket instead of $140, she would have had a lot more luck. I think you did the right thing in this situation, don’t feel bad about watching out for yourself.

  • Same thing happened to me 3wks ago. And guess where she was headed … Stafford!

  • I would have pointed out that if there truly were a God, he wouldn’t have put her in that unfortunate situation.

  • I was scammed by that woman over two years ago in Farragut. There were even two police officers on the same corner, but the woman had disappeared before we all realized what happened. Unfortunate lesson learned.

  • I ran into the same woman with the same story on the Duke Ellington Bridge over a year ago and walked away after she refused to let me call the police or look up train or bus schedules for her. Glad to know my gut was right and it was a scam.

  • There should be a compilation (on this site or elsewhere) of scammy scammers and the scams they scam so that people can be made aware. I know these cons can be super convincing, and this information could be a great weapon for residents and tourists alike.

  • Scam. I was approached by a woman with a similar story downtown a year or so ago. There was just something not right. I wonder if anyone has actually ever taken her up on her offer… it looks like everyone here has turned her down.

    • I’m sure someone has given her money, at some point, even if not the full amount requested. My friend–who is normally a very savvy, borderline cynical person (and was not a tourist)–gave an elderly Asian man $30 in Times Square because he seemed so believable and she felt sorry for him. (Story was that he’s a researcher from a small-town college in the Midwest, shy and self-conscious about his English, is in the area for a conference way out in the suburbs, took the train into the city to sightsee for the day, then got pickpocketed and stranded in the city without return train fare to his far-away hotel.) We knew immediately she’d been scammed because another friend (who changes her hair and style of dress frequently) was unwittingly approached by the man three different times over the course of several months. My second friend’s theory was that he targets younger Asian/Asian-American women like herself, assuming that they’re likely to feel protective/respectful towards an elder, and that he’ll remind them of a grandfather-type and provoke feelings of familial duty to help.

    • burritosinstereo

      I doubt anyone who HAS given her money would admit to it here.

      • ha, I’ll admit it. anonymously, of course. this woman got $20 off me a few years ago. I realized as soon as the money left my hand that I was a giant idiot and my blood was boiling for days after that. I kind of feel like it was worth it to learn that lesson in hindsight, though.

    • I was approached by this woman last February and sad to say, she got $120 from me. I kept talking to her because I was trying to flesh out if this was a scam or not. She started sobbing, complete with lots of snot. At the time, I figured a scam artist could not create contrived sobbing that leaves snot all over her clothes, but I was wrong. Same story about child left with a babysitter in Stafford County. In my instance, she showed me a DC ID and said she was a new employee of the city, working in the Wilson building. She gave me an office phone number which was legit, for a social services agency. I call the next day and spoke to someone from that agency and they told me this scammer was a former recipient (hence the ID) and has probably scammed 25 people with that story to their knowledge.

  • The same woman approached me about two weeks ago; I also felt badly and suggested a number of solutions, all of which she rejected. Looks like we did the right thing…

  • I was approached by this woman with the exact same story by the Woodley Park metro a year or two ago. I also thought she seemed really believable – she was sobbing, and it was really cold out. I didn’t give her anything either, although she did keep me talking to her for a long time. I felt guilty afterwards as well, so while I assumed it was probably a scam, I’m glad to hear that I was right!

  • This woman used to tel this same story on Connecticut and Nebraska about 5 years ago. She approached me twice on different occasions. Her story hasn’t changed much in 5 years either. In the past she never talked about her mom the cop and not having a cell phone.

  • If she is newly employed at the National Zioo maybe she should go back there and you know, communicate (yes, yes scam!)

    • This would certainly be the sensible thing to do. The zoo (and all the museums) have 24 hour security guards and they would go out of their way to help an employee in distress.

  • I got this same story from (probably) the same woman about two weeks ago in Shaw.

  • It’s notable how sophisticated many of these con artists are in targeting demographics that are likely to be sympathetic (such as young women, in this case), and hitting key points that people in DC are likely to relate to (new to the city, haven’t made any real friends yet, haven’t been able to connect with coworkers) to plant *just* enough of a seed in your mind of “this *might* be plausible…and what if something like this happened to me someday…if I were in this person’s shoes, and I sincerely needed it, wouldn’t I hope that someone would help me?”

    • Exactly what part of me was thinking! And I also felt defensive of DC when she said people here are mean and not friendly, and thought that somehow engaging with her would show her that people here are nicer than she thinks. Silly, I know, but definitely went through my head.

  • Scam, scam, SCAM! I ran into three different men with similar sob stories last year. There were posts all over PoP about guys running this last summer. You should call them on their scam, and loudly, to spoil an attempt at the next person.

  • The Zoo has staff on duty 24-hours. If she was really an employee, she could have/would have just gone back there for help.

  • The biggest con artists in this city are the ones that work in the capitol and the white house! Amiright?

  • Speaking of PoP-featured scammers, just as the gutter scammer was knocking on my door last night for the second time in two weeks, holding a piece of gutter and asking if he wasn’t making too much noise up on the roof next door… two police cars pull up, thanks to a neighbor’s call. After asking him for ID and having him sit for a few minutes, they sent him on his way.

    • Yay on #1; boo on #2.

      Oh well. At least 1) he’s on the radar of the police now and 2) he knows that some people are on to him. Although somehow I don’t think that will stop him…

  • I work at the National Zoo in the Administrative Office. No one fitting that description works here and furthermore, employees could always go to the NZP police if this were to happen. Unfortunate that someone is running this scam!

  • She’s obviously a scammer. Don’t be deceived. Save your money for someone who really needs help, like the guy who ran out of gas down the street and needs to fill up his tank to get back to Virginia. He’s even got his car keys!

  • This sounds similar to a woman who approached me outside the Dupont metro a year or two ago — something about having recently moved from Atlanta, I forget the exact details of her “situation” altho I think she was asking for $60-80 in that case. I think that I knew I only had $10 in my wallet so I gave it to her in case she truly needed it (she kept saying that she could go with me to an ATM to get the remaining $$ but that sounded super sketchy to me and I told her that I had a bus that I had to catch to get home myself). Now that I know for sure that this woman is a scammer, I’ll be sure to insist on calling the police if I ever encounter her again!

    • I believe I was targeted by the same scammer near Dupont, as I was walking towards the Argentinean Embassy. I listened to her lengthy spiel, told her I don’t have any money, and then pointed across the street to St. Thomas Episcopal and told her surely someone in there would help her. Instead she pounced on the next passerby.

    • I was approached by a woman at Dupont metro a couple of years ago too who wanted me to get “just” $20 out of the ATM for her to get home to somewhere in Maryland. She said she was pregnant, had been hit by a car, had lost her purse in the confusion of the accident, and the police had dropped her off at the metro so she could try to get a way home. I was an intern at the time so $20 was a lot of money to be giving away (still is, actually) and I had a hard time believing that the police, no matter how terrible they can be at times, would not have done what they could to help a pregnant woman who had been hit by a car.

  • Had a very similar encounter last night on 7th St NW by the Mt Vernon Square Metro entrance. Although this was a white lady who was “stuck in DC” and she’d “never been here before” / “didn’t know anyone in DC” even though she lives in Woodbridge, Va. and she is “a good person” who just needed some help to get home. Or something like that. Anyway, I told her she caught me at a bad time — no cash on hand that would’ve been of help to her — but she could go a block south where the Passenger & other bars were hopping with people and surely there would be plenty of other people to ask for help. She said it was a bad idea for her to go near a bar. Hmmm.

  • One of the oldest scams out there.

  • Had a guy near the SE/SW freeway once ask me for money to get a can of gas for his car, which was on the freeway with his wife and kids. I happened to be carrying a case of beer. I said I didn’t have any money but offered him a beer, which he took.

    • Haha – the broken down car with the “wife & kids” in it (bonus if they claim their wife is pregnant!) is one of the oldest lines in the book. Generous of you to give him a beer though!

  • I was approached by a woman with a similar story two weeks ago. She said she had just started working for a law firm downtown. I was torn, too, but why didn’t she just go back to the office to make a call? Or speak with PR? I asked her and she stopped crying immediately, becoming somewhat violent. You did the right thing. Trust your gut!

  • There is, what I presume to be, a father and his kids in the Friendship Heights Area (on the MD side) sitting there with a suitcase full of candy. They are trying to “raise money for children who need school uniforms that can’t afford school uniforms.” The entire family says it all at once and they have been there on and off all summer and now into the fall. They have one of those laminated sheets explaining what they need money for. I have never given them any money and when I see people do, I tell them it is all a scam. The guy has now brought a very cute 2 year old boy with them, which I assume is another way to draw attention to themselves.

  • Last May this woman gave me almost the exact same story when she approached me at Metro Center. Instead of the Zoo it was the Natural History Museum and instead of her ss# it was her mom’s police badge number. Otherwise everything else was exactly the same.

    • She also offered to give me her mom’s police badge information.

    • It has to be the same woman. I encountered her last spring/summer in Penn Quarter-African American woman in her late 30’s/early 40’s, works at Natural History museum, mom is a cop, very distraught, etc.
      Definitely a scam.

  • Probably a scam but in all instances like this, what I do is simply offer to buy the person what they ask for rather than give them the cash. I would have said, “I am happy to take you to the bus station and get you a ticket.” If it was a scam, she would blow you off in a hurry, but if she is truly desparate, she would work towards the “thing” she needs and not just the cash. A common variation of this scam is people telling you they need gas. So I always offer to buy people the gas. They NEVR take me up on it. (They want the cash, and probably not fort the reasons they say). Also, when people are truly desparate, offer to take them to the police who can help them.

    • I had someone approach me on U st between 14th and 15 th asking for money for gas. I said sure, meet me at the gas station on 15th and she tried to say she needed to go get a drink first. I explained I was in a bit of a hurry so it was either gas now or nothing. She drove to the gas station and I paid for some gas and she stopped me after $12 or so. I would’ve gone up to $20 (it was my bday and I was in a good mood). No clue if I was scammed or not. Her story seemed a bit suspect but believable.

  • Hi, I had a woman tell me the same story but it was near the National Mall during the summer. She told me she was from Atlanta, was crying had just gotten in an accident and that he car was towed. She also said that she was an employee at one of the federal offices near by and that her mother worked for the Capitol Police. I felt bad, gave her money and she asked for a way to contact me to get the money back. I gave her my business card. months later I have heard nothing. It was a scam and it has made me much more weary of people asking for $.

  • Why in the world would someone be looking to take a $140 cab ride? If it was true wouldn’t the be asking for the cab price at the end of the metro line, and take the metro to save $100?

    • I figured it would be hard to find a cab at the end of the metro line in VA, but yes, clearly there were holes in her story.

    • There are many, many holes in this story, but I could imagine someone late to pick up a kid from daycare might want to get to VA faster than metro will get her there. Though from listening to the traffic reports I don’t know that metro isn’t faster than the highways at rush hour.

  • This woman approached my car and gave me the exact same story about Stafford, Virginia when I was leaving a parking lot in Friendship Heights. SCAM!

  • pablo .raw

    In a case like this, I would offer to call the police so that they can help her. If she refuses, then is a scam; if she accepts, I guess the police could help her better than me?

  • I agree with people that the more complex and long-winded the explanation, the more likely it’s a scam. I had a lady approach me a few years ago near U Street saying her car was stolen, needed money for a bus to Providence Hospital where she worked and for a couple other things, I forget what else. Point is, it was so convoluted and ridiculous, it was clear she was reciting something not heartfelt.

  • Scam. I had a similar incident happen to me at the Newark DE train station. I had to travel there to work several times a month. Woman approached me in the taxi line asking for money to pick her kid up, offered phone number, place of work and guilt trip you experienced. I felt guilty after refusing and sure enough, two weeks later, same train station, same taxi line, same woman approached me again with the same story. Next time offer to call the police to get her to a station closer to her destination and see how fast she moves on to another person.

  • I once had a guy come to my front door and try to scam me. His story was that his wife was sick at Washington Hospital Center and he needed cab fare to get there (I live in College Park.) He almost sounded credible – he said that my next door neighbor used to teach his kids (and she is a teacher) but he was too ashamed to ask her for money. I offered to give him a ride to metro, but he insisted on cab fare. I told him I couldn’t help him, and he looked really offended and walked away.

    I’ve seen him wandering around in my neighborhood a few times, not sure where he’s from or what he’s up to.

  • They can get very belligerent if you call them out on their stories, or even offer to get them directly what they say they need (ticket, etc.) Nowadays, I just whack them with my silver-topped walking stick and yell at them to begone.

    • My partner and I were sitting on our front step several years ago when a young woman approached us with a story about locking her keys in her car or some such, and she needed money to get home. When my partner offered to walk her to her car to see if he could help with it she became quite indignant, seemingly very offended that he didn’t trust her enough to just give her the cash she was asking for.

      I have heard 3 or 4 different variants of this scam by now, all by different people. For some reason all these people seem to live in the hinterlands, have no way to get home, and no family, friends, neighbors or coworkers who can help them or who you can call for them.

  • Rule of thumb: the longer and more detailed the back story, the more likely it is a scam. People who really need money just ask for spare change.

  • An old and long running scam, had a guy approach me in San Francisco at least 5 yrs ago with a variation of it, and he walked more than 5 blocks with me as I moved on after hearing his initial pitch.

  • 12 years ago I had a similar experience with a woman who told me a similar story in Union Station. I fell for it and gave her $40 because I had just arrived to DC after growing up in a small town and had no idea what it felt like to be scammed. Wish back then I had your good sense to mistrust her. I walked away feeling confused and like I had been taken advantage of, and learned my lesson the hard way. Thanks for the post. It might be prudent to share your story with the Cleveland Park list serve as well if she’s working that area. There’s a lot of discussion over there right now about a couple making the rounds trying to run a charity scam. Who knows if they’re interrelated.

  • A friend and I were approached by an older woman in Adams Morgan a few months ago. She was upset and said she had been robbed by some people at the checkcash joint, and insisted on using our phone. I smelled a rat and suggested we go into Safeway and ask their servicedesk to call the police. She walked with us but kept urging us to take out our phone and asking didn’t I have a celphone. The second we walked into Safeway she yelled out “I can’t go in there!” and motored on. So clearly she was a scammer and probably had been kicked out of that Safeway before or something. I assume she or an accomplice would’ve stolen our phones had we taken them out.

  • SCAM- Same exact thing happened to my roommate when I lived in Ballston – almost exact same story too.

  • you must be new here.

  • I was approached by (I believe) the same woman at Pentagon City Mall a few months ago. Instead of the National Zoo she claimed to work at Macy’s (but was not wearing a name tag). At the time I found the incident very bizarre. She was asking for a ride to Woodbridge, however, and I didn’t feel comfortable with that. Every other detail of her story was the same as the OP. I now see it’s a more widespread scam.

  • Has anyone thought about taking a picture, or filming the scammer? Then you can post online and/or share with the police. And just pulling out your phone and filming or taking pictures (or pretending to) could serve as a deterrent.

    • …or you could get your phone stolen. Unless someone gets aggressive or violent when you refuse to give them money, it’s probably better just to ignore them and let them move on their next victim.

  • I can’t believe anyone would fall for any of these scams. Ever.

  • Allison

    A woman pulled a very similar scam on the GW campus a few months ago, and all students have been alerted to this tactic.

  • ANY request for money – for ANY reason – is ALWAYS a scam. If someone appears to be in distress – tell them you will call the police to help them. Then call.

  • She sounded like a semi-professional, enough so, that your consumed with some religious guilt. I truly hate when people use God or Religion to sell products, services or stories to give some free advertising to appear more creditable than the competetion. Any one could put a Jesus fish on their work van. Here is a free marketing gimmick, use a Old Testament quote to denote God and Yahweh support your business. With tongue in cheek. – You should of apologized for being Jewish.

  • I usually like to give scammers money when they’ve got good stories, about getting out of prison and whatnot. I figure they need it more than me and I’ll pay for my amusement. $140 scam is like a Jose Andres sandwich though.

  • I am a Smithsonian employee and ALL the Smithsonian museums (including the zoo) have 24-hour security guards at the entrances or gates. She could have gone to the zoo and talked to one of them, and if she had a valid i.d. badge and was truly in need they would have helped her out.

  • I’ve heard variations of this before, but I don’t think I’ve met this exact woman. Here’s the rule of thumb – first, offer to call the police (from a LANDLINE INSIDE A BUSINESS NEARBY – never pull out your cellphone, and yes, any business will call 911 for you and ask them to send police. Any of them.) When they say no, that they have already dealt with the police and they couldn’t / wouldn’t help them, say you have a bunch of friends on the police force and you will ask one of them to do it (it helps here if you ever actually go to your PSA meetings and know some of the officers in your area).

    Second, offer to deal with the problem more directly – I will go with you and buy a train ticket, a metro card, a gallon of gas, a happy meal, etc. Third (and last), offer to deal directly with the urgency of the situation (there’s always a reason they have to get it done *right now*) – the kid in daycare is a great choice for this. It’s why she can’t metro to the end of the line and take a cheaper cab, why she can’t wait for the police to get there, etc. Offer to call the daycare (from an inside phone, again) and use a credit card to pay them directly to stay late until she can get there, or perhaps even better, to pay them a fee to come fetch her and bring the kid with them.

    If they refuse help from the police, fine, maybe they don’t like cops. If they refuse the direct help, 90% chance it’s a scam. If they refuse the direct help, the police, and the thing that removes the urgency of the situation, then it is most certainly a scam.

    Think to yourself, what if that was me? Wouldn’t any of those three things sound like a really good start towards fixing my problem that would make me happy and extremely gracious, not flustered and angry?

  • Did she look of asian descent? if so I’ve encountered this thief twice, once near the Kennedy Center’s cheaper gas station and once in Virginia at the Exxon neat 7 and 395.

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