Heads Up – Scammer around Thomas and Scott Circles

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Dear PoPville,

Just wanted to let you know about a scam that has been occurring on 15th Street between and around Massachusetts and P Streets, NW, area. A dark-skinned man with a Kangol-like cap claims he’s a taxi cab driver and approaches pedestrians who are usually walking alone and rushing to their destination. He has two $10 bills in hand and asks if the pedestrian has a $20 bill in exchange for the two $10 bills. The pedestrian provides the guy a $20 bill and takes the two $10s. As the pedestrian walks away, he yells out, indicating that the pedestrian gave him a dollar, not a $20. Embarrassed, the pedestrian takes the $1 bill back and gives the man a $20.

They guy just made $19. The pedestrian had given him a $20 bill originally, and he quickly switched for a $1 bill, subsequently yelling after the pedestrian for giving him the small bill.

I got scammed this way last week in front of Latrobe Apartments on 15th, a block up from Whole Foods, realizing minutes after the exchange that I originally had $45 on me, two $20s and a $5 bill, that is, I had no dollar bills to mistakenly give this guy. My coworker was just approached this morning on 15th and Massachusetts in the intersection. Knowing about how I was scammed, she gave the guy a firm “no” and continued on her way. Can’t help but wonder what happens when the pedestrian has no other $20 bills to give to the guy (i.e., if he or she had only one $20 bill to begin with and thus couldn’t exchange it for a $1 bill even if he/she wanted to).

59 Comment

  • What reason could a person with 2 $10s have for a needing a $20? I had a guy ask me this last week on U street and I ignored him because the request made no sense.

    • Good point !!

    • I guess the premise is that he has a lot of small bills and wants to consolidate them. But why not take it all to a bank rather than ask random people for help every time you end up with two $10 bills.

    • When I asked him why he needed a $20 (I have been approached twice in the Shaw Metro station – once on platform the other closer to the ticket machines near the 7th St entrance), he claimed that some machine didn’t take $10s. He sort of mumbled so I couldn’t tell which machine he meant but the explanation didn’t make any sense.

    • Very good point indeed. There is often a good reason for wanting to break a larger bill into smaller bills, but not the other way around (unless it’s coins rather than bills, and you’re trying to consolidate 5 pennies into a nickel because vending machines won’t take pennies).

  • This happened to my mom last summer at the post office at Florida Ave & T St. She realized later that she had been scammed, but I think in the moment that it happens, people are just distracted, and just trying to be helpful.

  • This happened to me downtown several years ago – same “taxi cab” story. Obviously not my brightest moment. The scam has been around awhile. Good to warn people though.

    • Yeah, don’t trust anyone asking to exchange one set of bills for another. I don’t even think it’s a good idea to pull your wallet out at all on the street.

      • I agree about not pulling your wallet out. I feel bad for the people that “need” 50 cents because usually I do have it to spare, but I am not going in my bag, pulling out my wallet to get the change just so that you can snatch my wallet from me.

  • This happened to me in Turkey several years ago, except the scammer *was* my cab driver. At the time, the Turkish lira was so inflated that you were carrying about 100,000 and 1,000,000 TL notes, so it was easy to believe that you had gotten confused and given them the wrong denomination.

    • If you travel almost anywhere else in the world there’s a good chance a cab driver will try to pull this trick on you.

    • I fell for the exact same thing in Istanbul in 1999. The cab ride from the airport was supposed to be about 8 million TL but the cab driver saw that we have 10 million notes and told us it was 8 of those. All the zeros made it very confusing.

  • Worst scam ever but apparently it works. As Anon @ 1:55 pointed out, someone asking for a 20 in exchange for two 10’s should be treated suspiciously and ultimately told to keep walking.

  • Unfortunately in the city, everyone who asks to exchange money on the street should be viewed warily. Just watch your bills carefully and you should be able to avoid this scam. In street interactions involving giving change, I’m usually wary that the person asking for change may be doing this just to get me to take my wallet out, presenting the opportunity for a snatch-and-grab.

    • Same here. When I give change to homeless people I don’t pull my wallet out, but instead reach into my purse and feel around for it. Aside from the possibility of a snatch and grab, he (or someone nearby) could see the bills in my wallet and try to rob me. Even if this guy were legit, he and anyone who might be watching now knows you’re carrying around at least $20 that they could steal.

  • I can’t believe people actually fall for this.

    • For real!
      I don’t pull anything out of my pockets for anyone. You want the time, I’ll give you something approximate. It’s obvious I’m not wearing a watch so you want me to pull my phone out, right?
      But exchanging money with a stranger is downright dumb. DC ain’t no small townville in Iowa.

  • Someone asked me the same thing at Florida and T about a month ago.

  • OP here. I’ve been in the city for 15 years and can’t remember if I’ve ever pulled out money on the street, but because I had cash in a pocket and was rushing, I was foolishly hoodwinked, thinking that I was helping out a guy who seemed quite simply like a guy in a bind. (I barely even carry much cash in gereral.) I thought that it was strange that someone would want bigger bills instead of smaller bills, esp. a cab driver, but it all happened so fast that I didn’t have time to think about it in detail.

    At any rate, given this posting, readers won’t even have to think about the rationale behind the request, just keep on moving!

  • Hah! As if I ever have two $20s on me at the same time! Being broke is a good defense against this scam.

    • Seriously! This is one of the reasons why I was so frustrated with myself for falling for such a dumb scam after the fact: I had the cash on me leftover from when I was at the 9:30 Club earlier that week and needed it to chip in for dinner with friends before the show and then later at the bar. I usually only have a few fives or a ten on me at any given time—it was chance that I randomly had two $20s on me. Curses!

  • ah

    “No, I’m quite sure I gave you a $20”

    What’s the scammer going to do – call the cops?

  • Next time you see him, offer up the money, but *really* only give him $1 instead of the $20 he asks for and take his 2 $10 bills. When he confronts you, tell him you did give him a $20 bill and that he’s scamming you and if he wants, he can call the police. I would love to see this happen. Please someone make this happen.

    • I have been imagining this exact scenario in my head again and again. It would be delicious if someone could make this a reality.

    • + 100 billion. Please, please, PLEASE Lord Jesus give me the opportunity to do this.

  • Yes! I got approached with this scam a couple years ago on 14th Street below U, by the [former] post office, early on a Sunday morning. I was not rushing anywhere — I was hung over and on the hunt for some coffee. My uncaffeinated self couldn’t follow what the man was trying to say — I blurrily handed over my $20 to him and took the two 10s he offered.

    When I walked away and he started yelling I’d given him the wrong bill, I was mystified. I knew I had only the $20 bill in my pocket when I left the house, which I had already given him. A minute of mutual mumbling later, he eventually realized I was too much of a mess for the scam to work. He almost left me alone, but then realized he needed his two ten-dollar bills to do the scam again, so smugly handed me my $20 and asked for his bills back. I consented. I didn’t figure the whole thing out for another three blocks.

    It sucks to get scammed, but it does have a classic small-time con-artist charm to it. There’s a part of me that’s glad to see a more sophisticated form of larceny at work in the neighborhood – not another smash-and-grab, or stickup for a cell phone.

    • This reminds me of a friend’s story when a guy tried to mug him and demanded his wallet. He responded crazy like and started screaming “Well fine…but first give me back my green jacket! I want my green jacket back first!”.

      The would-be thief was so startled by my friend’s total batshit response he left him alone.

      • This “give me my green jacket back” story is the best thing I’ve read on the Internet all month, maybe all year. I think I may just start yelling “Give me my green jacket back!” randomly now.

  • DC CapHill

    I don’t care who asks for money, or how nice they are about it, my answer is the same; “Sorry, I don’t carry cash.”

    And it’s the truth.

    I had a homeless guy say he’d take a credit card once. I laughed.

  • I saw him at the Shaw metro station yesterday.

  • I say no to every question from anyone when walking around. Hasn’t failed me yet.

  • While I would also be quite annoyed if I got scammed, there is a small part of me that secretly admires the hustle he’s showing here. He’s basically taking advantage of people’s inability to do simple math. Pretty hilarious.

    Hey PoP’ville lawyers, is this guy breaking any laws? Would this meet the statutory definition of fraud?

  • I assume anyone coming up to me asking about anything monetary (or now time) related is just trying to get me to pull my wallet (or phone) out to swipe it. I just say “I dont know” and keep moving. You’re not obligated to engage with strangers. Its not impolite to be courteous but dismissive.

    • +1…..except I don’t even give them the “I don’t know.” I just keep walking.

    • Yea, I use a similar response and just say “No thank you.”

      The politeness seems to throw off the panhandlers/scammers, and also makes it appear you don’t really understand English very well.

  • This same guy approached me about 2 years ago. I told him I do not use cash. He gave me a look like a sad puppy and I kept walking.

  • Same guy came up to me in front of my old apartment on 13th a couple of years ago. I told him I didn’t have cash on me. He promptly called me a racist and then told me I looked rich. I was pretty mad because I knew there had to be some not-so-good reason he wanted a $20 for two $10s. They guy was really aggressive an was doing this right by the apartment door. I was not pleased. Interesting to find out he truly was a scammer.

    • Emmaleigh504

      That reminds me of the lady I saw yesterday. Sweet as pie she asks, “Miss can you buy me some food?” I shake my head no. Her whole voice and demeanor change and she says, “You UGLY!” I couldn’t help myself, I fell out laughing.

      • I’ve seen this lady too! Her entire face transformed when I said “Sorry, no.” It threw me off, there’s no reason to be mean to other people who are also trying to make a living. Ugh.

  • This guy got me at the Shaw Station last year when I was new to the city and trying to get my sister to a flight on time. He made me question my sanity, because I knew I didn’t have a dollar to give him!

    I filed a police report, mostly because when I called the Metro to report the guy they asked me to, but ultimately it was a cheap lesson in city living.

    My sister’s reaction was that she’d never help out a “homeless person”–I assured her that the guy was probably not homeless. Based on all the comments here, he’s probably making more off this scam than I do off my part time freelancing. Shame though, he’s actually an incredibly gifted actor.

  • I know someone who got with this scam at Metro Center a few years back. He was hanging out by the fare machines claiming that they would take his 10s.

    I think the best rule of thumb is just to never get into any kind of monetary transactions with people who approach you. I’m sure there are legitimate cases of people in need but until those people eliminate the scammers from the world they are SOL if they come up to me asking for something. Sorry.

  • I had someone try this on me a few years ago when I was bartending. We had closed and I was counting up, although the door was unlocked. I didn’t fall for it. I’ve seen guys like this try to prey on tourists downtown as well.

    • This is tangential, but perhaps now is also a good time to remind people about the scammer claiming she’s been in a car accident and needs $120-$140 to get home to Stafford, Virginia:


      I actually encountered that scammer a month or so after that thread came out, and thanks to the thread, I was 1) wary when she began her spiel and 2) knew as soon as she mentioned Stafford that she was definitely the scammer.

  • This has been happening for years. Friend of mine called the guy out on it and he ran away

  • I guess I would just also tell the guy to go to hell and he knew god damn well that I didn’t give him a $1. This happened to me once outside Petworth- machine wasn’t taking the bills deal- which is legit in many cases as the machines, like everything else in metro sucks, but I gave him a pronounced stare and simply said im going and get the police or station manager. He shut up, called me an asshole, and walked off.

  • brookland_rez

    That’s why if anyone needs change or anything on the street that requires me to pull out my wallet, it’s “No, sorry, can’t help you”.

    Besides being scammed, it’s foolish to take your wallet out for a random stranger. They could very well snatch it or anything else.

  • It’s hard to believe somebody would fall for this. Always assume that anyone approaching you on a the street is looking to rob you. Under no circumstances should you ever engage anyone, let alone give them money.

    This is a wake up call for me because I’ve been foolishly engaging homeless guys looking for change and shady looking people asking for directions.

    • justinbc

      “Always assume that anyone approaching you on a the street is looking to rob you.”

      No thanks, I would rather not live in a world of paranoid delusions.

      • austindc

        In DC, I kind of assume they are going to rob me or they work for Greenpeace.

        But in Minneapolis once, I was looking at an information kiosk, and some dude walked up to me really fast. I thought he was going to take my bag, but it turns out he just wanted to recommend some museums and a pretty river walk. Which I did, and they were lovely. I’m still paranoid and deluded though.

        • justinbc

          Most inhabitants of Logan Circle have learned to avoid the clipboard carriers, or it certainly seems that way. Walking past Whole Foods on P St every day on my way home I learned about more random charities than I ever thought possible.

  • This person has been hanging out at the BP in Bloomingdale on the corner of Florida and Rhode Island too.

  • ThunderCheese

    At least two years ago this happened to me IN A CITIBANK (Vermont and L– same neighborhood.) I raised my voice saying “No, I gave you a 20!” and he quickly skeedattled. No one at Citibank noticed.

  • This guy approached me outside the P St. Whole Foods last week. I figured he had counterfeit 10s or something, even though the 10 isn’t counterfeited much. I declined to “help” him – he blurted out he was a cab driver (like that makes sense at all and would change my mind). Now I know what he was up to. Thanks for the posting!

  • I also saw this scam happen a few weeks ago on the 90 or 92 bus going east down U Street.

  • The guy approached me today at Farragut North. Thankfully, I read this post before and was aware of the situation. However, I agree with most readers that I probably wouldn’t have given him a twenty dollar bill anyways. Seemed sketchy.

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