The Old “I’m short $38 to pay for a locksmith” Scam Making the Rounds Again

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mike Maguire

“Dear PoPville,

A man (description: mid 40s, short, chubby, African American) came to my door around 9 p.m. on March 26 claiming to be my neighbor from four doors down. He said he was short $38 to pay for a locksmith. He said the police refused to assist him and bemoaned how they used to back in the day. He gave a generic name (Mr. Nesbit, I think) but I did not recognize him or the last name from my block. Given the various of money-seekers with bogus stories that have come to my house since moving to Petworth I declined to give him any money.

My wife suggested offering to pay with my credit card and telling him that since we were neighbors I trust he would pay me back.

Package Thief:
I saw a man (description: mid 40s, short chubby, African American) pacing in front of my door around 5 p.m. on March 30. He walked away and I went to the door to see what was going on. I saw him casually kicking a box down my steps while he glanced left and right. When he had kicked the box to the gate at the sidewalk I asked him what was up with the box. With the box at his feet he literally said to me “what box”. A back and forth ensued with him claiming to not see it on account of his blindness. He then said he was looking for his friend John’s house and mumbled some address that was four blocks to the north. He kept on with the blind argument, then claimed to be handicapped. He went as far as to produce his “handicap papers” to demonstrate his truthfulness. I picked up the box and he waddled off to the south.

I thought they might be the same man but I cannot say so with much certainty.

I live on the 4000 block of 7th St. NW.”

Another reader reports the same scammer story:

“Middle aged black male, dark clothing, medium complexion, weighs about 290+ pounds,

Talks like he is out of breath, sweating on his forehead, says he is locked out of his house on the next block, his money is inside his house, the locksmith is waiting to open his door but he needs $38’s more to get the door open; begs for the money and says he’ll be right back with repayment just as soon as he gets entry to his house.”

33 Comment

  • emvee

    All I can think of is Buzz Lightyear wearing a hat saying, “I AM MRS. NESBITT!”

  • The same guy came to my house around the corner from OP, 700 block of Taylor. I did offer check or credit card and asked talk to the locksmith which he of course refused. I called the police and they came looking for him, saw them drive by several times. They called later to say they were canvasing but had not found him and that was the last I heard of it.

  • Exact same thing happened to us on 1300 block of Shepherd about ten days ago. Same scam, same description. I failed to call the police, but will in the future and I hope everyone else does the same.

  • justinbc

    It’s a shame nobody ever gets photos of these people to send in to the police. Seems like everyone is always attached to their cellphone except the times where it might be actually useful.

  • same guy came to 7th and Taylor a few nights ago.

  • I wish just once I could say I was surprised by the description.

  • Question for PoPville: I was standing on the sidewalk in front of my house the other day with my stepson (5) and my twin nephews (almost 2) waiting on my sister. A woman came up to me and said she was from down the street and that she had lost her cell phone when her house burned down (she gestured to the house three doors down from me which did have a fire a couple of weeks ago, but I know that she did not live there). She pointed at my house and asked if I knew if “he” was home because she knew him and needed to borrow his cell phone…long story sort of short, I told her “he” is my husband and if she wanted she could wait until he came out and ask him. She got short with me and then left.

    Something was definitely off, but I’ve been trying to figure out what the deal was. If my husband or I had loaned her a cell phone, was she just going to run off with it? Was she trying to kidnap one of the kids? Is there some other phone scam that she could have pulled off?

    • Accountering

      I did help a guy who needed to make a call once, he was having some issues with his mom, and wanted to call her landline. He gave me the number, I dialed, put it on speakerphone, and held it tightly with both hands while he spoke to her.

      • Yeah, I probably would have done the same, but I didn’t have my phone on me and she hightailed it out of there after I told her she could wait on him to come outside. There was definitely something sketchy going on, I could just tell. But I can’t figure out what!

  • Same exact thing happened to me back in September. He left his backpack with me saying he would be back. There was nothing in it but a microwave meal and Advil. I live at the corner of 12th and P NW.

  • Exact same thing happened the 3800 block of Kanasa Ave NW (between Quincy & Randolph) about a month ago.

  • This happened to me on Warder St too on March 21st. He said he was a neighbor who locked himself out of the house and needed cash. It was 9pm and he matched the description above. Told him we didn’t have any cash and he left.

  • Lots of people are probably taking away the lesson “Don’t give money to strangers.”
    But I wonder if anyone is thinking “I should get to know my neighbors better.”

    • That’s a fair sentiment, but it’s beside the point. Legit locksmiths don’t work this way – so if someone is giving you this story, there’s a scam happening.
      Also maybe people do know their neighbors and that’s why the guy is a stranger (you know, because he’s not actually a neighbor).

    • Oh, and if it really was your neighbor, then shame on him for not getting to know you. He might get the assistance he needs if he had made the effort earlier.

    • A guy matching this description came to my house with the exact same story – he lived four doors down and needed money for a locksmith. Too bad he didn’t realize both houses four doors on either side of mine were occupied by white couples. Protip: never commit to a specific number of doors!

    • Oh please. Spare us the self righteous lectures for a scenario that isn’t so obviously a scam.

    • I know my neighbors very well, but I live on a block that has something like 50 houses. There are probably 1,000 people who live within two blocks of my house. What would you propose I do, Mr. Wonderful?

      • Welcome to the internet, where the person with the least pleasant quick-read interpretation of your position is guaranteed to bleat the loudest.
        I was thinking for myself, do I know folks I could go to on my block if I needed assistance? Yes, I do. But then, I’ve been there 10 years. Did I know more than one or two houses during my first year? Er, no, probably not. I would have been in a bind. I should have been more outgoing.
        (And sure, the locksmith thing is a scam. But there are any number of reasons a neighbor (or a “neighbor”) might come knocking. It’s generally good to know folks. I don’t think this position is controversial or difficult to understand.)

        • I hear you on the (likely slight) possibility that any of these encounters were or will be legitimate but the bitter pill to swallow here is the context in which a lot of us experience them, that being a buzzillion anecdotes of scammers going door to door raising money to pay for their cousin’s friend the locksmith who is trying to get to Atlanta for a marching band competition. Loads of skepticism abound.

    • Thing is, in the majority of these stories, including this one, the poster says 1) it sounded sketchy and 2) I didn’t recognize the guy from the neighborhood. That suggests that they DO know their neighbors, no?

    • Really? Because I’m thinking if someone knocked on my door and told me they lived on my block I’d laugh them out of town because I know everyone who lives on my block at the very least by sight if not by name. I imagine that’s how a lot of people know this is a scam, because they know exactly who lives 4 doors down from them and it isn’t this guy (though I imagine he does in fact live 4 doors from someone!).

  • The same guy came to my house last summer. Somebody please take his picture!

  • “I thought they might be the same man but I cannot say so with much certainty. ”

    And that’s why these scams keep working.

    Be more observant, folks.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to act upon your advice. Being more observant isn’t something that a person can will one’s self to do in the heat of the moment. It requires extensive training. Give me a good physical description of the cashier who rang up your groceries last time you bought groceries. If it was somebody who you actually know, or somebody you have been keeping your eye on for reasons other than just being your observant self, then substitute something else reasonable, e.g., last delivery person who came to your door to deliver something that you ordered. Go ahead. Try. If you can, congrats, I’m seriously impressed. if you can’t, you should really “be more observant.”

  • I sent this to my wife because she gave him $100 last week (the news was not accepted well on my end because it’s the oldest trick in the book) and apparently it was a check. She said it was cashed and the last name is Nesbit. I want to catch the MFer. Anyone have any suggestions?

    • 1. tell the police
      2. find out where it was cashed. see if that bank or check cashing place still has surveillance video from when it was cashed.
      3. the check has your account and routing number on it, and possibly your name and address. watch for suspicious transactions and identity theft.

  • So a guy matching the above-description banged on my door a couple weeks ago on a Tuesday at about 2100 on Emerson street, NW. I looked out my window, he bolted from my porch and then mumbled something about a wrong address all while talking loudly on his cell phone. He seemed really nervous as he noticed I was eye-effing him all the way down the block. The whole thing seemed off and out of place.

  • Quincy-Street-Neighbor

    Happened to me one Sunday evening about a month ago on Quincy St NW between the 900-1000 block. He gave the same “need money for a locksmith” story. I’ve been living on Quincy for over a decade and definitely did not recognize him. Told him I didn’t have any cash on me and he pointed to the corner store with an ATM and I responded, “so why don’t you withdraw money from your account and pay for the locksmith yourself?”

  • This guy has definitely come to our house before. It was such a bizarre story that we kinda believed him but just weren’t comfortable giving that kind of money to a random stranger. We’re new to the block and couldn’t figure out why, if he was indeed our neighbor “from a few houses down,” why he’d ask us instead of someone who’d lived there longer and probably knew him. Ugh.

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