“Beware of the $20 for two $10s scam guy is back in Farragut and now hitting up businesses”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Elliot Mitchell

A reader reports:

“This morning I was in my favorite little coffee shop (Cafe Grande) on K Street between 17 and 18th and a guy came in with the “$20 for two $10’s” scam. He’s a hunched over, African-American man who is probably 5’4” wearing a red jacket and a grey hat. Having read about that here I told him to go away but he convinced the woman at the register to “make the change” for him. I watched him as he pocketed the $20 and started screaming at her “for only giving him $1.” I stepped in – as did a couple of other patrons – saying “this is a scam, don’t worry you gave him a $20.” He got very vocal and started yelling at us, saying we were trying to take money from a homeless man, etc. The cashier (who had limited English and was very upset by the entire situation) threatened to call the police at which point he walked out. Just wanted to give people working in the area the heads up!”

51 Comment

  • UGH. I hate this guy. I always feel so bad for the unsuspecting tourist who he scams. I hadn’t seem him in a while and thought he moved on. Can’t believe he’s now hitting up businesses too…

  • How dumb do these scammers think people actually are? In general, I’m pretty wary about flashing cash in public, even when I can actually make change – so it’s hard to understand how people still fall for this. My old liquor store in Eckington was a prime target for these guys, except they did it even more brazenly with the store clerks who would have none of their nonsense.

    • No need to denigrate those who fall for this scam (well, other than feeling better about yourself, I guess). Most are likely tourists and simply want to avoid confrontation with someone clearly unhinged. I’m not sure why you seem so surprised.

    • justinbc

      “How dumb do these scammers think people actually are?”
      Multiple people have posted on this blog over the years after falling victim to this scam, so it must work on enough of a percentage that it’s worth the risk of not actually being arrested.

      • I think it works not because people are “dumb,” but because the guy who perpetrates this scam sizes up good-hearted and/or distracted people he can intimidate into coughing up more money. He once tried this on me while I was standing on a metro platform, zoning out at the end of a long day. He raised his voice and tried the “YOU ONLY GAVE ME $11!” deal, and I yelled back at him to get out of my face or I’d be happy to call the cops to have them sort out the matter. Unfortunately, most people don’t want to deal with confrontation and will feel guilty thinking they made a mistake and/or that they are afraid of dealing with a mentally unhinged.

      • And somehow my scam was different….it was a guy asking to break a $20 for two tens, which he then palmed into a $10 and a $1, screaming I shorted him on one of the bills.

    • It’s not that people are dumb, they just have an automatic response to help someone who asks. More polite than dumb. Its why most scams like this work as often as they do.

    • It actually makes me sad that guys like this have made me suspicious of helping anyone on the street. It’s part of what contributes to the cold attitude of the city.

  • Is there any legitimate reason a person could need a $20 bill instead of two $10s? When a person asks something of you that makes absolutely no sense it is safest to assume there is some sort of scam involved.

  • Could the next victim just accept the two ten-dollar bills, and give the guy a one back? Then the game would be over, for a while, wouldn’t it?

  • he was also at the U street metro (starbucks side) on sunday afternoon around 4ish.

    • Yep, in U Street Cafe yesterday around 12:30. I watched him approach a woman, and thought I should warn her (she’d given up her seat for our group) but felt like I was making an assumption that this was him. Looks like my gut was right (sadly).

  • I’ve encountered this guy several times over the years. Thankfully, I read about him on Popville years ago and knew it was a scam. Thanks Popville!!! 🙂

  • Never heard of this until now, thanks!

  • I wish I could give people like that $20 Monopoly bill and just laugh in his face. (I know I’d get hurt if I did that in real life). He didn’t say currency the money had to be in.

  • Ok, is someone able to tell me the scam — from what I read here, this is what I took away:

    so… the scam is that he asks for a $20 bill in exchange for two $10 bills? Does he actually give the two $10 bills and then when you give him a $20 he causes a scene attempting to force your into submission and then get you to give him more money?

    • He walks up to you and asks for a $20 in exchange for two $10 bills. In his hand, he has a $1. As soon as you hang him the $20, he pockets that and says “you only gave me a $1!” And starts screaming in your face until you succumb and give him (another) $20.

      • This scam makes no sense. You give him a $20 and he gives no money but starts screaming you only gave him a $1. He has no room to yell or be upset because he isn’t out any money. In this case he would get further by calmly correcting your mistake.

        • That’s exactly the point. He isn’t out any money. That’s why it’s a scam. You give him a $20 in exchange for two $10s, he claims you only gave him a $1, and you give him another $20 to shut him up. If it works, he’s made $20 off the scam.

          • It just seems that the person who gave the $20 or $1 as the scammer claims, would have just as much room in this case to start yelling. Once he starts yelling at me I would have to ask “hold up buddy, where are my 2 $10’s?”

          • Yes, seems you figured it out. Enough other people haven’t, though, hence the PSA you’re reading here.

        • no, he does give money initially. he gives the two ten’s. he’s even unless he can convince/embarrass the other person into forking over another $20.

          • Thanks for clarifying. I couldn’t wrap my head around how this scam could work if he never offers up the 2 $10’s. Seems like a hell of a lot of work just to make $20.

  • I kind of want this to happen to me just so I can ask him why he needs a $20…like, what place ONLY takes $20 bills and won’t take his two 10s? It makes sense going the other way but not the way he’s asking.

    The scam is a type of the very common Change Raising scam, which involves basically making lots of change and passing bills back and forth with the mark until they are too confused to realize they’ve ended up with less money than they started. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_confidence_tricks#Change_raising. This guys variation seems to be an even less artful version, in that he asks you for a 20 bill and then just claims you didn’t give him one.

    • ledroittiger

      I’ve asked him this very thing and he gave up. I shadowed him to make sure that he didn’t pull it on anyone else and he started getting real pissed at me–giving me the evil eye on the train. When I got off he told some kid I was harassing him, so the kid threw a handful of change at me as I departed. All around a very pleasant experience. If he’s reading this for some reason, I’d like to say thanks and I hope someone pushes your ass onto the tracks someday when it doesn’t hold up my train so I’m not late for work.

      • So you hope he gets killed or maimed because he’s running an easy to avoid scam? Ouch!

        • DC CapHill

          And? You can’t wish harm on someone out to do harm unto others, just because it’s non-violent? None of us would have to put up this BS, or a LOT of other BS, if we had more people unwilling to turn a blind eye.

          • You mean like the numerous people reporting the scam and location?
            I wouldn’t call you willingly giving away too much money “harm”, but whatever floats your boat.

        • Eh. It’s not like the guy’s going to come up with a cure for cancer.

    • He approached us a few years ago. Thanks to PoPville, I knew not to fall for it! He said he needed the $20 because he was a cab driver…which doesn’t really make sense. And we were in a Home Depot, so if he needed change or bigger bills legitimately, he could have asked a cashier or customer service.

    • That’s why I don’t see how this works on anyone. It. Makes. No. Sense. Why would anyone need to exchange two $10 bills for a $20 bill? What situation could make that useful or necessary? Anyway he tried this routine on me at the Starbucks at 15th and it immediately set off my “this is total BS” alarm…I told him to f**k off.

      • People are still falling for the Nigerian Prince scam.

      • You sure showed this homeless man who’s boss – good on you! Bet that made you feel real good inside, eh? Always does it for me.

        • jim_ed

          Well thank God someone finally noticed the real victim here – the guy stealing money from other people. Glad to see someone here has their sympathy in the right place.

          • The real victim here, clearly, is the person who was proud to tell a homeless man to “f**k off”. That takes real courage and conviction.

          • jim_ed

            Ah yes, because someone who’s entire criminal gambit is based on lying certainly wouldn’t try to gain additional leverage by claiming to be homeless even if its untrue. Do you think Nigerian email scams are run by real, down on their luck African royalty as well?

          • I once saw a “homeless” man on U St. convince some drunk people on a patio to give him money, then he flashed his iPhone and was like “Haha, suckers! I’m not really homeless and you just gave me money!” and left. Not even kidding. I’m pretty certain that the vast majority of homeless individuals don’t resort to scamming people for money. So I agree with jim_ed’s comments entirely.

          • justinbc

            Oh yeah, I’ve had plenty people in DC just randomly come up to me and ask for $1. Even if 1 out of 20 people respond in a city where you’re likely to encounter thousands, that’s still more than you’re making sitting on your stoop getting stoned.

          • Nicely put, Jim_ed.

        • If more people responded with this attitude, maybe the beggars in DC would not be so aggressive. He is trying to trick you. Why would you treat him with respect?

  • I saw him in the Chinatown metro around 2:30PM today.

  • I called him out on it about a year ago at the Chinatown metro. I even managed to take a picture of him and forwarded it to metro police. Keep up the good work, Popville.

  • This guy (or one just like him) approached me on DeSales Street (bet. Conn/17 and L&M) – Hunched over, and using a walker actually. Blue Jacket. Asked if I had a $20 for four $5s – I told him I knew of his scam and he said he was a Cab Driver. I told him he was a scam artist and he then said he was from North Carolina.

  • An older man matching this description just walked in to the nail salon on 11th & L with the same pitch. We all said ‘sorry, no’ and he left. He was wearing light denim jeans and a gray back brace/bandage.

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