Scam or Not? Vol. 17 – “locked out and needed to pay the locksmith”

Photo by PoPville flickr user grit and whatever

“Dear PoPville,

Today a man came to my front door in gym clothes and he looked pretty sweaty. He said he was a neighbor of mine and gave an apartment number but didn’t say the building. He said that he was locked out and needed to pay the locksmith but didn’t have access to his wallet. He said he had money and he would pay me back, he just didn’t have access to it since he was locked out.
He said he called his pastor and the pastor wasn’t able to help him. Whenever someone mentions the church or a pastor when they’re asking for money it makes me suspicious… Like they are trying to come off as legitimate.

I didn’t give him any money, but told him he could talk to the construction workers next-door to see if they could help him out. He said he didn’t want to deal with those guys and was going to ask a different neighbor.

Part of me felt bad because he did not seem to be full of malice, and he was really sweaty because it was hot outside. However, in the back of my mind I thought that surely a locksmith company would let him pay after they let him in and he did get to his wallet. Also, if he really needed the money he would have not minded asking other people on the block.

Has anyone dealt with this before in the Petworth neighborhood recently? I feel terrible if there really was a neighbor and distress that I didn’t help, but it seems to be wiser to be suspicious of anyone who comes to the door asking for money these days.”

Unfortunately I’m going with 99% likelihood it was a scam.

86 Comment

  • Scam, scam, scam. Please call the police.
    My worry is that he will take advantage of some older person on a fixed income who can’t afford to part with even a small sum of money. Call the cops on these guys, even if only so the cops are familiar with the shakedown artists in the neighborhood.

    • Generally speaking, locksmiths are familiar with people whose only means of payment is behind a locked door and can only pay for services after they are rendered. Its kind of what they do.

  • Yeah any locksmith that you call to let you in is going to open it before they demand payment. I had a locksmith come who couldn’t get the door unlocked, and they didn’t ask for payment. At least in my experience, the real crime is the exhorbitant amount they’ll charge you.

    …always have a lock box…

  • Prob a scam. Just as he could have paid you back once the door was unlocked, he can pay the lock smith once he got in and recovered his wallet.

  • As someone who’s had to call the locksmith when locked out (on Capitol Hill on inaguration day! – I can’t remember the name of the company or I’d recommend them because the guy was so nice about doin g an emergency call in the middle of the chaos), yes, they definitely open the door and let you get your wallet before you need to pay them. Don’t feel bad.

  • probably a scam. even if you live in a small apartment there should be a super or someone with a spare… if there was a need for a locksmith, i find it hard to believe that one wouldn’t let you pay afterward. plenty of people lock their purse or wallet in a car

  • Scam. No way a locksmith wouldn’t let you pay after.

  • Nah, don’t feel bad. It was a scam. If his wallet were truly locked inside and he had no ID, no reputable locksmith would let the person in without the police present. Besides, the guy could have called the building’s management who would definitely have a key and there would be no need for a locksmith at all.

  • Most certainly a scam. When I first moved to DC more than 20 years ago I was working at 9th and F and a guy was walking along the street with a gas can claiming he ran out of gas and needed money to get some gas. I talked to a guy walking in front of me and the guy told the gas can holding dude that he had asked him that same question to previous week. Naturally he did not get any money from me either. Fast forward about two years and the same guy with what was probably the same can approaches me by Woodies. This time I got to tell him he tried the same trick with me.

  • Scam! I was locked out a few months ago, with my wallet inside the (locked) house and the locksmith definitely let me in. And they take debit/credit cards so even if someone didn’t have the cash on hand they would still be able to pay them if they had a card.

  • Scam. I may have an especially dim view of humanity, but ** anytime ** a stranger has a story and asks for money, I assume it’s a scam. I’ve seen enough Mamet films (House of Cards, The Spanish Prisoner) to know not to trust people.

    • You should see Matchstick Men if you haven’t yet. Great movie about a con man. Also The Grifters.

  • Yeah, sounds like a scam. If you didn’t at least recognize his face then he’s probably not a neighbor. There aren’t too many people on my street I don’t at least have a nodding familiarity with.

  • Scam. Especially with the mention of his pastor.

  • This got me thinking: is it illegal to “scam” someone? It isn’t robbery because someone is giving you money by their own free will, but is it something arrest-worthy?

    • This sort of came up when someone posted about the gutter-cleaning scam — where they gave the guy $20 and he vanished. IIRC, the response from the police was that the only thing they could possibly get the guy on was breach of contract or “failure to provide services as promised” or something like that.
      I can’t remember whether anyone has addressed the legality (or not) of this type of scam, where the scammer misrepresents his/her position to gain sympathy and get money. AnonMPD, are you out there?

    • I think the issue is that it’s not an arrestable offense until you give them money AND you can show that they didn’t use it for it’s intended purposes. Cops can’t really do anything to this guy, aside from telling him to move along and that they are keeping their eyes on him. Though, perhaps he could be busted with a trespassing charge, if he entered an apartment building.

  • Definitely a scam – I’ve been locked out before and the locksmith definitely let me pay after unlocking the door (wallet was locked in the car).

  • scam. unlock door -> get get money -> pay

  • here’s the deal- be very careful of opening up your doors to strangers. if they come to you door and want money it’s a scam. if someone comes up to you on the street and wants money because of ______, it’s a scam. If someone holds out a hat, or a cup, they’re just begging, and while it could be a scam it’s more often than not because they’re homeless. in that case, do as your heart and circumstances tell you. if someone is missing limbs, or deformed, they could probably use a dollar or two.

  • Maybe he didn’t know he could pay the locksmith after the door was unlocked. Have we considered that possibility?

  • Definitely scam. My general rule of thumb is that I don’t give cash to anyone who knocks on my door (other than the kids who scoop snow in winter). I don’t care if it’s your school group, youth group, a person in need or whatever. If I don’t know you, you’re not getting cash from me. Period.

    • Yup. I told the kid who was (legitimately) collecting for my local volunteer fire department that I didn’t have anything to donate (or, as he put it, “So, you don’t want to help”) I’m a former volunteer EMT and we never went door to door for donations. He also had a checklist of addresses where people did and didn’t donate. I feel that’s kind of intimidating and I think I’m going to contact his Chief about this.

    • Definitely. I don’t care if you’re a little old lady collecting for your church or a kid selling candy for your school. If you come to my door you’re getting squat. Not to mention the annoyance of someone disturbing me in my home, and setting my dogs off is enough for me to send them packing. I need one of those “no solicitors” signs!

      • chevy chase rescue squad requires their volunteer EMTS/ firefighters/ members to go door-to-door and collect around $3000 each during their fall annual campaign. That was a big turn off for me toward considering joining their agency as a volunteer. I understand the need for them to raise funds, but forcing their volunteers to shill door to door makes an already challenging volunteer role even less desirable…. They’re there to save lives and take halligans to doors, not fundraise…. I see how there is a need for members to raise funds however as irritating as it sounds…

  • If you really want to help people in these situations but are not sure they really need help, you can always offer to pay for the service directly. In this case, “I’ll tell you what – give me the building and apartment number and I will come over and wait for the locksmith with you and pay him when he is done. Then you can pay me.” Makes no sense given that once the door is open he could pay the locksmith. But when the person declines your offer – which they probably will – you will get even more confirmation that it was a scam.

  • Encountered a similar scam, but it was the keys were locked in the car. This woman claimed they were locked in her Beamer, and that it has a ‘special key’, and that she needed taxi fare to go home and back. She mentioned that she worked for a top law firm in town. LaLaLa.

    I said no. I felt bad about it, until two days later where I ran into her trying to run the same scam on someone else. To which I totally called her out on it, and she scrammed.

    • This is a common one. Hello! Taxis take credit cards and you can pre-pay from a cell phone app. If you’re driving a “beamer,” you have either one.
      My friend fell for this scam and gave her $50, but my friend’s an idiot.

  • Other scams to beware of:
    Gutter-cleaning: and
    Someone presenting two $10 bills and asking for a $20 bill in exchange:
    Woman who claims to have been in a car accident, says it’s her first week on the job at ____, and asks for $ for taxi fare to get back to Stafford, VA:

    • Guy was pulling the “change to a $20” scam on tourists on the metro platform at Metro Center a few months ago. Me and a few other locals watched for him to make the swap and called him out for it. Argument ensued and metro police carted him away.

    • An additional scam (although I don’t know whether this one is widespread): Pedestrian throws self in front of runner and claims that runner broke his watch:
      More detail on the pitch from the scammer claiming to be from Stafford:

    • Aaand an additional one –
      Person claiming you backed into their car when you clearly didn’t. If they don’t want to call their insurance company, it’s probably a scam.

    • Also avoid the old man on the metro platform who claims the metro “doesn’t go out” where he’s trying to get, or is somehow broken, and he needs money for a special discounted senior citizen taxi service that WMATA is calling for him. When you tell him you don’t have any cash, he brightens up and immediately knows where the nearest ATM is, and he can walk you to it! (How convenient.) He speaks with a self-imposed stutter to keep you listening intently to him.

      • Interesting — I hadn’t heard of this one. Now I’m warned!

        • Ouch. I gave that guy a few bucks because I was running late to work and really needed to get to work. He took my address and said he would mail me my money. STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN THAT $2 BACK! THANKS STUTTER MAN!

          • Yeah, the stutter is a key part of it. He made me miss two trains listening to his story, but ultimately didn’t get any money out of me.

  • Sounds like PoPville is in complete agreement that this was just a big scam.

    Last weekend I witnessed a guy walking down 14th street selling packages of men’s athletic socks ($2 a package). What was both hilarious and a little depressing was watching peoples’ reactions. Most folks were, understandably, puzzled as to why the guy was selling socks ($2 a package) on the sidewalk and their facial expressions were a riot. But every now and then someone actually bought a pair..

    I love living in DC, but it sure can turn you into a cynic over stuff like this.

    • I don’t get it. What is the scam with the socks?

      • Selling of stolen items. My guess is that they came from a package on someone’s porch.
        I’ve been approached a few times on the street, asking if I want to buy random (stolen) items.

    • Was it Bubbles?

    • used to be pretty common in dc for people to be selling socks, underwear, tshirts, etc. all over the place while just walking down the street. wish there was still more of this kind of stuff going on.. legit or not… it was more interesting than what’s going on now. i’m sure most of these items were stolen from stores, as this was before there was much amazon delivery..

  • 110% scam. I just encountered the most lame scam ever yesterday on Monroe street (b/w 16th & 17th sts). I was coming back home and saw a guy knocking on my neighbor’s door. No one answered so he came up to me and demanded a payment for shoveling snow on my sidewalk last winter. He said my neighbor okayed it. Really?

  • Also, beware of the scammer in Col Heights / Petworth asking for taxi money to providence hospital where his “daughter” is “giving birth.” Dude tried this on me twice in about 4 weeks. Called him out the second time.

    Good rule of thumb — no matter what, don’t give money to strangers.

    • Heh — “wow! that sure is a long labor!”

    • have you considered the possibility that the daughter was in 4 week labor?

    • Yep. I’ve heard this 3 times already. Either it’s a long labor, or his daughter needs to start using birth control. One time, the guy was on his cell phone and carrying dry cleaning over his shoulder. He stopped his conversation and asked me for money to the hospital. I was like, “Dude, I know you’re lying. You had time to pick up your dry cleaning!” The last time, just to eff with him, I was like, “Here! Let me call a cab for you!” He walked away.

    • Same guy (possibly) was around the U Street metro asking for cab fare to Sibley because his daughter’s breech baby was being delivered there. I saw him twice within a few weeks earlier this year.

    • That guy was at 14th & P last week! Same story.

    • Damnit, I think I gave that guy a few bucks. I’m a sucker…

  • I had a women call to me from her car yesterday. She started telling me that she’d tried going to a particular church in the area, and then another, and no one was there to help her. I thought she was asking for directions but then she said she needed $7 to pick up her prescription from CVS. I was confused about the church connection but thought it was a scam so I said I didn’t have any money. She sounded really emotional about it, but if she can afford to burn up gas driving around looking for churches she can afford a $7 prescription right? Definitely weird though.

    • There was a woman on foot around Chinatown who was trying to pull a similar scam with the $7 for her medication that could only be purchased “uptown” (also mentioned CVS, but was on foot). I think many of the folks who try to pull these scams get these ideas from one another.

  • Anyone who ever approaches you on the street for anything is likely a scammer. Just walk away, if it’s legit they’ll get help from someone else or the police.

  • If there’s a complicated story leading up to the request for money, it’s a scam. I’d rather people just ask directly for money, or even tell me they need it for booze. Don’t insult my intelligence and waste my time making me listen to your fake sob story.

  • Twice in similar situations, I’ve told the guy I don’t have any cash but I’d be willing and able to pick the lock and let him into his apartment if he could prove to me that he lived there. Neither took me up on it.

  • is it bad that im starting to get sketched by people asking for driving directions? i need to see some stats on smartphone penetration around the country. that would either confirm my suspicions or just make me seem like the paranoid weirdo i probably am. but seriously, who asks for directions nowadays?

    • I don’t have a smartphone, so I have to ask for directions periodically. I usually look at (and print out) a google map beforehand to avoid the inevitable quizzical look from my smartphone wielding rescuer.

      • Me too, no smart phone. I have a gps in the car, but if I’m walking I’ll ask people for directions.

      • No smartphone here either. Like Anonymous 12:54 pm, I try to get directions beforehand via GoogleMaps, but I still sometimes get lost.
        I’m pretty sure that the kid who asked me what time it was in the Metro last week was expecting me to break out a smartphone that he might then steal. However, I wear a watch. (He then walked behind me to avoid using a farecard when exiting, exited the station, looked around for about 30 seconds, and walked back in.)

    • I hope you don’t live anywhere near the Zoo or other tourist attraction. People are ALWAYS lost and asking for directions. And lots and lots of people don’t have smartphones to look up directions

      • I live right by the zoo metro stop and this is my favorite:
        “Which way is the Zoo?”
        *points North” About 15 minutes up the road
        “Is that too far to walk?”

    • I have a smart phone but don’t pull it out when asked for directions (that’s another scam).

      If I know the way, I’ll tell you. If not, best of luck.

    • Also, it’s easy to forget this if you have no such problem, but some people REALLY, really struggle with maps. They might have the map on their smart phone but not know how to orient themselves. I’m inclined to help with questions of the “which way is Connecticut Avenue” variety.

      • Yep, that’s my girlfriend. Despite having a smartphone she’s also technology-adverse and would rather speak to a human than fiddle with a device.
        I’m shy and usually don’t ask for directions. But I think most people enjoy having the opportunity to help someone, so by asking them you’re making their day a little bit better!

    • I do have a smartphone, but I’m paranoid about getting it snatched, so when I’m in an unfamiliar place, I’ll ask for directions instead of using it! But then, I’m a white woman. I don’t have any trouble asking for (and getting) directions, or really anything else. I recognize my privilege.

  • 99.998% of the time someone is asking for money, it’s a scam. Though, almost a year ago, when metro instituted the rule that you can’t enter through the fare gates if your card is below a certain balance (which I didn’t know – I always used to go negative before refilling!), I got stuck. I was in the Waterfront metro station trying to go to U Street with my kids in a double stroller, of course, without my wallet. I started asking for money to get in, but there as also a homeless-y woman asking for money, too. I schlepped back out of the station and luckily ran into someone who I recognized from my kids’ storytime class. I was mortified.

  • Related:

    A guy came up to me and my friends on U st saying he needed money for a cab because his daughter was in Sibley Hospital. Thoughts?

    • jim_ed

      Also a scam. I’ve been hit up dozens of times with some variation of this story – usually the person claims to be out of town military needing money to get back to base or whatever. If your heart is breaking though, offer to pre-pay for uber for them, and they’ll generally say something like “no no, I don’t want to hassle you” and make a quick exit.

      • Ah, I forgot about the military one. Now I remember seeing a guy with a buzzcut trying to work this one on tourists around 9th and F Streets NW.

        • Yeah I get the military one all the time–wearing some kind of mismatched camo they bought at a surplus store and claiming “I just got home from Afghanistan and don’t have money to get home”– nevermind that I’m pretty sure the Army pays your whole way home.

    • That was the first scam I got in DC! Most frequent, too. It’s always a daughter, and it’s always health related.

  • About 10 years ago, a woman my age approached me in DuPont Circle and said that she needed $20 more to get into a local hotel. It was such an obvious lie. But she looked so desperate. So I gave her $5 and said she needed to work on her story. A week later, the same woman jumps out of her car–which she was obviously living in with two little kids–and started to approach me… but we both recognized each other at about the same moment. She turned and jumped back into the car. I regret a little not going up to her that second time to see if I could help. And while I agree the locksmith thing is a scam (and I had the gutter guy at my place a couple years ago), not everyone is a scammer. Sometimes folks just fall on tough times.

    • A scam is a scam regardless of the reason why you are doing it. Just because you’ve fallen on tough times doesn’t mean you’re not scamming, even if it does make it somewhat more forgivable.

  • These are crazy! I have two more. Several months ago, my husband was approached by a well-dressed man in Silver Spring with the keys locked in the car story, asking for cab fair to Baltimore. He told him to get lost, and then the man went after a naive looking young couple who gave him money. My husband came home feeling bad but I told him it definitely seemed like a scam.

    Last year in Adams Morgan, a short Asian lady approached a friend and me with some convoluted tale of someone stealing her money in the western union type place and imploring us to call the cops, asking repeatedly if we had phones. I offered to ask the front desk at Safeway to call the police, and she kept asking if I had a phone. She seemed really upset. When I walked toward the doorway to Safeway, she was out of there! Scam!

  • OP here; I feel a little better but everyone else confirmed my suspicion that this was a scam. Of lives in Petworth for six years and generally know the people who live around me. And all the time I’ve been here it seems like everyone on my street or the surrounding area has had each others backs so I would feel guilty not being able to help someone legitimately need.

    You’re alright though that after living in the city so long it’s hard to trust anyone. They used to be a woman outside of my office who claimed for three years straight she was pregnant and needed money. I watched so many people give her money and let’s just say she definitely wasn’t. I hate that there might be someone who has fallen on hard times that won’t get help because of all the scam artist. I do like being able to bring this to this website though and the fact that we can alert other people about things happening in the city.

  • This is an old scam…there are variations but it’s been around for awhile…

  • Bus fare to the VA hospital is the most common line I’ve heard in DC in my ten years here…obviously something that most us would help with in a heartbeat if legit…and tempting…until you hear it repeatedly…I’ve been approached by four different people within two blocks on 14th st. before with this…a sure sign that someone was having luck with it that afternoon…

  • Ha! I swear if people transferred the creative energy they put into scams into seeking legitimate employment…

    You’re a sweetheart though for almost believing it. HE should be ashamed. Not you. 🙂

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