“I wanted to share this story so that others don’t end up falling for this same (very convincing) con.”

school con
Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr.TinDC

“Dear PoPville,

I wanted to write to warn people about several interactions I’ve had with a gentleman downtown, near the Convention Center and CityCenter.

Several weeks ago, during the middle of the day around 10th and Massachusetts NW, an older gentleman approached me and asked, “Do you know where the Veteran’s Building is?” He had a stack of papers in his hands and was wearing a dingy white button down shirt and a tie.

I asked him if he knew the address, which he did not, and he asked if I could look up the information for nearest VFW. He then asked if he could borrow my phone to call the VFW, because his phone had died. I dialed the number and handed him the phone.

During this phone call, he relayed a terrible story to the person on the line. He said that he was a Vietnam veteran, he lived in Maryland, and he had taken the bus into DC that day for an appointment at the VA. But when he arrived at the VA, he learned that the appointment had been rescheduled for the next day without notifying him. He had spent his cash on a bus ticket to DC and didn’t have enough money to stay anywhere overnight until his rescheduled appointment the following day. He asked the VFW if they could help him arrange for a hotel room or hostel room for the night, but was unsuccessful. The call was heartbreaking to listen to.

At the end of the call, facing a night on the streets apparently because of a mistake by the VA, he asked me if I could lend him the money for a hostel nearby, which he thought would be about $50. He assured me that he was a bricklayer who had a job, and if I gave him my contact information, he would repay me as soon as he got home. I didn’t expect that he would actually repay the money, but I thought it was a nice gesture on his part. So, although I’m not someone who typically gives money to panhandlers, I ended up giving him $60.

About a week later, again near 10th and Massachusetts, I was shocked when the same guy came up to me and asked, “Do you know where the Veteran’s Building is?” I realized immediately that this had all been a scam. I later checked my phone and saw that he had hung up the call to the VFW before anyone answered – so that entire “phone call” had been a show to try to get money out of me. And then I ran into him again last night at 11th and New York! Again, he approached me with the same line, “Do you know where the Veteran’s Building is?”

It’s obviously a very successful con he’s running if he’s come up to me, three separate times, using the same opening line. I wanted to share this story so that others don’t end up falling for this same (very convincing) con.”

148 Comment

  • This is a very common scam–I used to work right near the VA building a few years ago and had at least one person approach me with a similar sob story.

    • Yupppp. Doesn’t even have to be veterans. I had something similar happen to me years ago around 10 p.m. at the Woodley Park metro. A man approached me and appeared to be in distress. He said he had visited the zoo some hours ago, where he was bitten by a cobra. He told me his Obamacare had not kicked in yet so he couldn’t go to the hospital. I asked what I could do to help and in reply he asked me to accompany him to the McDonald’s bathroom where I could “assist” in removing the venom. Being the altruistic individual that I am, I obliged. Once we finished up he appeared very grateful.

      Fast forward later that night and I was in bed telling my husband all about the man’s life I saved. I was met with a look of horror. It was then that I realized the zoo doesn’t have any cobras. I immediately filed a police report but just as everything else in the Lanier era I have nothing to show for it. When I hear stories from people like OP it absolutely breaks my heart.

  • “asked if he could borrow my phone ”

    Always a scam, usually a robbery

    • Once a lost intern-looking kid at a bus stop asked if he could borrow my phone because his died and his ride wasn’t sure where he was. I said sure, give me your backpack. He was really confused that I wouldn’t just hand over my phone, but in the end he called his dad while I just stood next to him holding his stuff until I got my phone back. Awkward, but allowed me to do my good deed for the day.

      • I have been the kid before waiting on a ride or misplaced my bus transfer etc and that does suck so this I could sympathize with. Good idea exchanging the backpack for the phone.

      • Exactly- had a young guy/kid ask to use my phone once because his was dead. I told him to let me hold his dead phone. He looked confused at first, but I think he figured it out in the end why that made sense. It’s awkward, but you can’t just go around helping people without protecting yourself from a scam these days.

    • Granted this has always been while on the bus, but I’ve had 3 people ask to borrow my phone and actually (apparently) used it for the stated purpose: to call the person they were going to see and let them know they were on the way/their ETA. It seems fairly obvious that they actually used it for that purpose because the conversation always started with an explanation of who was calling and that it wasn’t their number. It’s a several-models-out-of-date Android, so I’m probably a little less protective of it than someone would be with a latest-model iPhone, but it’s an easy way to help someone out. I also often tell people when the bus is expected at bus stops. I’ve had plenty of moments, particularly on the Metro, where I get the sense that some punk is checking out my phone to steal it (they always move on realizing it’s an old Android), but none of the people who have asked me to use it/for bus predictions seemed like they were going to grab and go (I’m almost always a couple decades younger than them, so there’s the factor that I can almost certainly run faster than them).
      .
      TL;DR…I’ve had several people ask to borrow my phone and never once was it a scam or robbery.

      • alternative tl;dr: you got lucky 3-4 times, who’s to say the 5th time won’t be when you lose your phone?

        • Well, my comment was in response to “always a scam, likely a robbery,” so my point still stands. Even if I lose my phone the 5th time, the rest of my comment stands that it’s an old Android with no “street value,” so I can probably activate “find my Android” and find it in a trash can or gutter a few feet from where the (20+ years older than me) perp took off with it, if I can’t chase them down, trip them, and grab it back since, again, they’ve all been 20+ years older than me.

          • Sorry, “Lookout” is the app I have that can locate my Android phone. “Find my {i-device}” is what I have on my Macbook, which I’ve only “lent” someone in so far as letting them charge their cell phone off of it when all the outlets are occupied at the airport and my computer is still in front of me.

  • I’ve run into the same man twice … but he hasn’t asked me for money or a phone.

  • This is an old, old scam that comes in many, many incarnations.

  • So I no longer consider these to be scams or con jobs personally. You willfully helped out a stranger in need by providing access to your phone and $50 cash. Regardless of the window dressing that a stranger on the streets puts around it, it always comes down to some sort of favor and/or cash. If you oblige, than you oblige and you have done a good dead for the day and the universe will repay you somehow.

    Personally, I would never hand my phone to anyone I do not know, especially an adult, because they may take off and run with it and I do not feel like chasing anyone. I do give cash when i feel moved enough and definitely do not expect it back.

    • So, basically, still a scam.

      • Charitable giving

        • That’s how scams work. Take advantage of good people by providing a phony sob story.

          • Exactly. This is the definition of a scam. It’s the exploitation of someone’s sympathy through the use of deception.

          • +1 to Kingman Park and MR. It’s not “charitable giving” if deception is involved.

          • +1 to all of the above.

          • My point is that 99% of the time one knows that these long drawn out stories are not 100% genuine yet in some cases people give anyway as I have done so.. An easy way to tell is to try to change the narrative and see how frustrated or uneasy people get when you veer away from “their” plan.

            In the original post, he basically told the person that he caught a bus from md to dc to go to the VA hospital, appointment was cancelled and he needed hotel money, not bus money to go back home, but hotel money. My instant rebuttal would have been to catch the bus BACK HOME to MD. A MD to DC commute is common and doesn’t warrant a hotel and all the repayment conversation is a dead give away that something doesnt add up because he isnt paying you back yet you gave anyway.

          • “My point is that 99% of the time one knows that these long drawn out stories are not 100% genuine” — Stacksp, YOU might know that the story isn’t genuine, but many people are posting here saying that they thought this guy’s story was real and were taken in.

          • I see that now Textdoc, please dont yell at me : )

          • OK. πŸ™‚

  • Yup, I was approached with the same story about a year ago.

  • Maybe I’m a cold hearted person, or it is just early on a Monday, but I would absolutely call the police. He pulls that story out because it works (clearly). Smart of him, but honestly it is no different than someone who fakes cancer for donations for medical expenses. And I’m pretty sure it is against the law.

    • I’m not sure that it is illegal. He asked for money, but he’s not an official organization and he doesn’t have a legal obligation to use in any manner once you’ve gifted it to him. It’s disgraceful, but probably not really illegal.

    • It doesn’t have to be illegal for the police to succeed in scaring him off doing it in these parts again. I had one guy scam me with a story about how he was alone here from Tennessee — he’d show me his license up close, so I knew it was real. It was a story I cannot remember but ultimately ended with an explanation for why he needed money. I don’t remember the amount anymore, maybe $20 or $65 or who knows how much? But after the 2nd time I happened across him and he threw the same schtick at me, I was almost kicking myself for not recalling the scam until after I had run into him and he was gone. Thankfully, a couple days later, I saw him a third time and waited and watch to see if approached other people again. He did.

      I called the police and told them that there was this guy at X/Y block intersection right now (I remember explaining what was going on and how to tell it was him) and could they just talk to him to get him to stop lurking around there anymore. It’s been years in the same area, and I’ve never seen him again.

      You’d be surprised what even being seen by an officer does to a scam artist. They instantly become like shy cats. Not saying it works every time, but in an area where there is at least a couple of foot cops nearby (10th and Massachusetts qualifies in that regard, I would think), it certainly doesn’t hurt to make them feel they are being noticed.

      I actually tried something more direct once when somebody kept charging small amounts to my credit card every month. CC company kept removing the charges but wouldn’t just block new charges from XX source outright, the way a bank would block all checks made out to XX person, for example.

      They actually recommended I call the number associated with the charge and ask the person to stop charging my card. Incredulous, I tried what they suggested anyway. It went to VM. I left as unawkward but direct a message as I could stand to leave. Charges stopped the next month and never resumed.

      So some of these actions that make scammers feel visible tend to have an effect on their behaviors because they don’t want to get caught.

  • huh this guy approached me at 10th and G, I was on the phone and told him I had no idea what he was talking about and walked away. Felt bad…but now I’m glad I did that.

  • OMG. I fell for this a few years ago. The guy seemed super genuine and so I loaned him $20 or so. Let him use my phone, even showed me his Army ID. I left saying to myself that even if it was a scam, the karma was on him. Oh well.

  • It’s *always* a scam.

    Never give people cash. Period.

    • HaileUnlikely

      It’s probably a scam most of the time. I don’t usually give people money, but I do once in a while, fully acknowledging that it’s probably a scam, and I’m ok with that. I don’t think I’ve ever handed over $60 to somebody in such a scenario (I never carry that much cash unless I’m going to need it for something specific on that day), but I might have offered to walk over to the hostel with him and pay for his room.

    • Correct. All the details should convince you it’s a scam, not that it’s true.

  • Just a quick note… It seems like there is an issue with the URL and picture for this post – unless this has something with Eaton ES or back to school, and I’m missing it?

  • Yep, I ran into this guy at 10th and K NW a couple months ago. He asked for help finding the VA. I told him that the only VA office I was aware of was the one on Vermont Ave. by McPherson Square, and I kept walking. Sad to say, but I generally assume people who stop strangers on the street with vague questions and long stories are perpetrating a scam. (Absolutely no judgment or blame to OP – you were just trying to do a decent thing, and that’s admirable. I used to do the same before the scammer brigade made me cynical and suspicious…)

  • Allison

    This man approached me years ago with the same story. We talked about his injuries (purportedly a result of Agent Orange in Vietnam) but I never gave him any money. He must have been at this for years.

    • I have been feeling guilty about not having any cash for this guy for weeks! I guess I’d rather believe the best in people than the worst, but DAMN.

  • I give tourists directions and that’s it. No one gets a single thing from me, ever. I watch the same people work people all day long near my home and job and I get mad at all the people who open their wallets. They have apartments and phones and this is just a job for them. (I give to charities to ease any guilt.)

  • What the….

    25 years living in this city, I usually never fall for this stuff. This happened to me last year. I thought I had helped out a Vet. Damn it!

    • 20 years in NY, 8 here, and I fell for it too. He’s very convincing. And perhaps you DID help out a vet.

  • Maybe I’m a cold-hearted b*tch, but I would have told him to go back to home Maryland and take the bus down again for the appointment another day.

    But then, I wouldn’t have given a stranger my phone, so I’d have never gotten into that conversation with him. I’d have either not stopped to talk, or just pointed out the building asked about if I knew and kept walking, or said “I don’t know” and kept walking if I didn’t know where it was. That’s what years of big city life have taught me to do.

    Though I tend to agree with the person who says they don’t consider it a scam. After giving a smaller amount of cash to someone with a similar scummy story once, not in a city, I agree that we agree to participate. Even when we realize later we were scammed, as we could have chosen to know at the time, or to just not to give money to help out in what could plausibly be a real jam for someone, we do give (sometimes), knowing we can’t verify the story, or just preferring to help in case it is a real jam, or just wanting to throw some money at someone because it is the easiest way to end the conversation and move on. Or, sometimes, we just feel sorry for someone whose livelihood depends on getting strangers to believe something and give them money (how much of marketing in jobs considered legit depends on exactly that?), or sometimes even admiring the skill of some beggars’ spiel.

    If you recognize that the issue is with you, that you have the power to choose how to react then appealed to, that you can control only your actions and not those of others, then you won’t be as outraged by this sort of behavior. Everybody out there is trying to sell you something, usually, after all.

    • HaileUnlikely

      I agree with your middle paragraph. If I were to hand over $60 in the same scenario as the OP described, I would have to concede that the guy worked harder for that $60 than I did. I routinely piss away more than $60 on stuff I later regret but that hardly anybody here would ever question.

      • Lying to someone is hard work? And worth basically $240/hour (assuming this interaction lasted 15 minutes, which is probably generous).

        • HaileUnlikely

          Suiting up, selecting and obtaining props, rehearsing the story, staying out in the sun and heat all day? And he probably gets 1-2 people a day to fork over the money, definitely not four per hour. Aside from the question of desiring to make a contribution to society to your job, do you think you could make more money more easily the way this guy does than the way that you do? I sure as hell don’t.

          • This is a strange argument.

          • It’s not just a strange one, it’s ridiculous. Presumably you’re obtaining the props (which seem to consist of papers – wow, difficult score there) once, once the story is down, it’s down, etc. Plenty of people work harder earning an actual legitimate living than this in the heat and the sun all day.

            I’m sure the success rate is far lower than $240/hour, but this isn’t hard work. It’s a crime and he should be in jail for it.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I’m not arguing that what this guy is doing is morally right, and I am not arguing that he is the hardest working man in the history of the world, but I am arguing that this man is working harder than a lot of people who make a lot more money doing things that, while technically legal are no better, and I will maintain that argument.

        • Mental gymnastics brought to you by gentrifiers’ guilt.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Not saying that the following applies to you or Duponter personally, but I guarantee that at least some of the participants in this discussion are getting paid a solid salary to sit in air conditioned offices and are posting on Popville while we’re supposed to actually be working. I know for a fact that there is at least one . What we are doing is socially accepted in our social circles and what he is doing isn’t, but the moral distinction between the two is fabricated by us for our benefit.

          • My job isn’t one that could reasonably occur outside in the sun and heat. And sorry, but I’m paid because I help my employer generate revenue and so my time is valuable to my employer. And I meet the requirements put on me by my employer, so the moral distinction that I’m not ripping someone off sticks here. As I’m sure it does for almost everyone who sits in an air conditioned office shuffling papers as you seem to think. It also generally does not require me to mislead or lie to someone to earn that money. The morally repulsive part of this is that the person is duping people out of their money, not that he exerts some modicum of effort to do so. I assure you, regardless of how much it may satisfy you to think otherwise, my job requires an education, skills, and a great deal more effort than lying to someone on the street for money.

          • HaileUnlikely

            First, I explicitly stated that I was not saying nor implying that any of that applied to you personally. No need to waste space defending a position that I am willing to stipulate. None of the following is directed at you personally. But do you seriously question or doubt that a large number of people in white collar jobs blow off their assignments and f*ck around on the internet for hours a day, call in sick when not sick, “telework” and then don’t do a d*mn thing all day, and otherwise steal time from their employers, i.e., getting paid under the false pretense that they are working? Even if you personally do not do that, and even if you work in a place where this does not happen, I don’t see how you can deny that a whole lot of people do that, including many that arguably are not so valuable to their employers and will (or at least should) in time be fired but who none of us would even think to condemn the same way as you and everybody else are so eager to condemn. That’s an ugly double standard.

          • Of course people do that. And I won’t go into how if employers are not standard setting and holding employees accountable for results, then they are doing it wrong. But I also do not think that means this guy is working harder than they are. Like I said above, this doesn’t seem like particularly difficult “work.” Ignoring of course the ridiculous idea that there is some moral equivalence between someone checking Facebook at work and purposefully duping people out of their money by lying to them that you are a veteran who needs help. No, sorry, I don’t agree with you about any of that.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I don’t think this guy is working harder than all of them, but I absolutely do think this guy is working harder than some of them. Spending the day outside when it’s pushing a hundred degrees is f*cking difficult, and begging for help from strangers is humiliating.

  • There used to be this guy in Columbia Heights with a story about his daughter in the hospital giving birth and him needed taxi fare to get there.

  • If anyone asks you for anything on the street, it’s a scam.

    • This is a good rule to rely on. (Unless it’s tourists asking for directions — although when the scammer from Stafford tried her spiel on me, she started by saying she wasn’t familiar with the area and I thought she was going to proceed to ask for directions.)

  • Same guy came up to me a few weeks back at Pennsylvania Avenue and K Street NW. He was really convincing – the phone call really did it – and I didn’t think to look at the call time (4 seconds) until after he had walked away (with a generous donation from me). The failings of the VA also strike a cord with me, so I was a prime target for his story. I really struggled with my decision to give him money after I realized I’d been scammed, but the bottom line is that he probably needs help in one way or another.

  • Linc Park SE

    You should report it. Posing as a Veteran is illegal and if you are a Veteran, using that as a con for money/favors is also illegal.

  • Thanks for posting – this guy approached me downtown a couple of weeks ago as well, and was very convincing. We used my phone to call the VA on speakerphone, and he left a long message, including his SSN. He didn’t ask me for any money or anything, just wandered away afterwards.

  • This happened to me too, a few months ago. Really saddened it was a scam, we totally called like three VFWs together. Didn’t think to look at the call time. Thanks for sharing.

  • nightborn

    After 8.5 years of DC living, I have found that if you offer people to pay for/buy whatever they are asking (food, metro ticket) instead of handing over cash, 9 times out of 10 they walk away. If they accept, I do as promised… But usually an offer of “sure, I’ll walk into this deli with you and buy you a meal” to a request of “can you help me get some food” is met with a dismissal.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Ditto. And for future reference with respect to this specific scam or ones like it, there is a hostel located at 1009 11th St NW. I myself stayed in it for 2 nights when I moved to DC in 2004 not yet having a place to live.

    • Funny story. I offered to buy this lady some food once as I went into I believe it was Manny and Olgas on 14th maybe a decade ago. I hand her a carton of french fries and she slams them on the ground saying she doesnt eat potatoes. All I could do was laugh it off…. She obviously was not that hungry…. But yes, people prefer the cash over the food 9 times out 10 as you stated.

      • there used to be a guy who hung out at sizzling express near my office, asking for money or food. he got pissed at my coworker after the coworker purchased him scrambled eggs with cheese and not the cheese omelet he requested. then I felt his wrath when he asked for food and I gave him unopened fritos from my lunch. how was I to know he didn’t have teeth and they were too crunchy for him to eat?

      • most homeless that I’ve worked with have a pretty meat centric diet.
        there are a lot of things to consider when you’re out on the street. and using bathrooms is just one issue.
        you’d think people would be grateful your your charity, but sadly, it’s quite complicated.

        • What do using bathrooms have to do with eating a meat centric diet? Does meat make you have to go less?

          • My guess is that beef for instance stays in your stomach longer than a starch or vegetable as they say it could take up to 2-3 days to digest. With a poor diet maybe even longer thus resulting in less bowel movements. All a guess. Maybe C will respond.

    • Last year I was outside of the Giant in Columbia Heights when a guy came up to me and said he was hungry and was supposed to get some day labor that day but that it fell through. I told him if he was hungry I would buy something for him at Giant. He gladly agreed and we went inside and he picked out a few healthy things that probably cost like $5 and I paid for it. Good chance his story wasn’t true but if I lost a few bucks feeding a guy who was hungry, not a big deal.

    • I’ve found the opposite. I routinely buy things by request- mostly personal care items and water- for people standing outside Walgreens, CVS, etc. They always seem very grateful. Everyone deserves to be clean and have water, so I’m willing to take the risk that I occasionally get scammed.

      • +1. When I get a banana from a hot dog cart, I usually get two, so I one to give. I’ve never had anyone reject it. (I get bananas because someone once told me that his teeth were too bad to eat the apple I offered him.)

        • Oh, and if your dentist gives you the post-cleaning toothbrush-toothpaste-floss goody bag like mine does, you can really make someone’s day!

      • Anon 12:45 pm, you might want to read this:
        .
        http://www.popville.com/2016/02/new-scam-alert-cash-to-buy-deodorant/
        .
        Basically, personal-care items are often resold for cash.

        • Yeah, I learned this the hard way with a homeless man my boyfriend and I befriended. He’s outside of our church every Sunday and we got to know him and his story and really thought we were making a difference for him. What started out as a trip or two to the Rite Aid on U St. for basic hygiene items for his leg (his leg is amputated and his other foot looks like it will be soon), turned into elaborate shopping trips buying him expensive name brand personal care items (the last one ran us $60). The guys at the counter told us that he would come back as soon as we left and return the items for cash and does this all the time to people. It really sucks and we feel really taken advantage of, but now we only buy food for people.

          • Were you really taken advantage of? Guy is homeless and minus a leg. If having people buy you stuff that you can later return is what it takes to get people to give you the charity you need to live, then these people are being very resourceful to stay alive.

          • I get your point, and it’s something we had talked about when this all started. I’d rather him be honest with us and just tell us he needs money or whatever it is he needs. Taking us to the store under the pretense of needing to cleanse his wounds and then turn around and return the products is misleading. We spent many weeks getting to know him and spending time with him, so excuse me for feeling taken advantage of. He also has a shelter he calls home, so he has other resources as well.

    • There’s a guy who used to stand outside a deli near my office asking if people can buy him something to eat. When someone obliges, he goes inside with them and picks out pre-packaged food options. Then after the person purchases and walks away, he returns the food and pockets the cash.

      I think what made me the most mad is that the employees don’t tell the people who are being conned what is going on.

  • I encountered a similar scam a while ago in the Chinatown area. Same stack of papers and claim to be a veteran, started off with needing directions to a VA office.

  • I also fell for this guy’s scam near the White House. I even called a hostel on S Street, NW to see if they had room and gave him the address and $40.

    I learned a while ago from a friend that she was scammed by him as well.

    He should get an academy award!

  • I’ve totally fallen for this one. Quite a salesman.

  • Thanks for sharing. I like to think I’m somewhat savvy about scams, but I would have fallen for this.

    And no, I don’t think it’s okay to lie for money. Ever. Under any circumstances. If you have to lie, then someone else needs it more than you do. I would report this to the police and I would want him charged for Theft by Deception and fraud.

    • It’s not even so much the money that angers me. It’s that my faith in humanity is undermined. I become less trusting of people and then I start to hate human beings. That’s why fraud hurts so much.

      • +1. If someone could tell me, with no lies, why I should just hand over $5 or $20 or $60 to them, then sure. Convince me without threats of violence or lies that’s it’s worth it to fork over a few dollars. Trust me, there are ways people could do this and I will hand them whatever cash is on me, gladly and without regret. But lying, especially posing as a Vet (or exploiting that fact, whatever the case) is pretty gross and this guy deserves to have his scheme exposed.

        • Agreed. Also, time is money, and these elaborate lies force the victims to invest a lot more time into handing over the money than they would if someone had asked for it outright.

    • I find it funny that people get so riled up about one sorry person lying to get a few bucks. We have an entire investment industry based on this, as the recent crisis proved. No, it just isn’t true that no one could predict that the mortgage market was in trouble due to stupid lending practices and was going to tank, and I have a hard time keeping a straight face when someone suggests that no one could know what was going to happen. Happens all over, with all sort of investments. Massive fraud, all over the place.

      • “I find it funny that people get so riled up about one sorry person lying to get a few bucks.” — People get riled up about this because it’s personal and close to home, and because scams like this rely on one person being taken in by another. Most of us haven’t interacted directly with big honchos from banks.

      • I think there’s a huge difference between being offended by a personal interaction and being offended (for lack of a better term) by a systemic institutional failing. The two situations are not entirely analogous, and they are certainly not mutually exclusive.

  • This guy fooled me too, about a year ago! Luckily he didn’t get my money, as I left to go to an ATM and when I returned with the cash I couldn’t find him anywhere.

    I am actually relieved to hear so many reports about him, as at the time I was really sad & worried about this poor older gentleman unexpectedly wandering in a strange city for the night…. Every time I think I’ve become a mean, hard city person my reaction to something like this reminds me I’m clearly still a suburban softie!

  • As someone who works with the homeless population in social services, my advice would be to offer to direct them to an agency nearby. Most all agencies will provide them with some support or referral. There are a number of great providers in the area that can help people with case management needs. This will help clear up whether or not they are actually looking for services. One thing I have done is kept an extra farecard in my bag with a $5 or so left on it.

  • Consistent with most of the comments here, this is a common scam. I’ve also run into someone claiming to be a Veteran close to CityCenter (9th and N) asking for cash for a cab to get to Sibley Hospital. I’ve lived in DC for 5 years + grew up in the outside suburbs, and have adopted my own internal rule of never letting anyone use my cell phone, and never giving out money. I feel bad about it, because I’m sure at some point, I’ve walked away from someone in need. Usually I’ll try to direct someone to a store, or coffee shop. Figuring if they are really in need, they’ll go there and try to use a store phone.

  • justinbc

    TLDR; don’t give money to people you don’t know, and even then be wary.

  • The thing I’ve learned in DC is that the more complex the story, the more likely its a scam. I also fell for this VA guy about a year ago near Gallery Place! Fell for another scam at Archives metro station about 5 years ago where the women had a long story about her car breaking down, kids at home in VA, etc etc.

      • My experience was similar to the Cleveland Park one. The woman who approached me looked like she had just come from work — in a suit, carrying a purse — and she gave me the address of her office so I could go get my money back later. She even said she had talked to the police, who couldn’t take her as far as she needed to get home. I finally clued in when the $10 I gave her wasn’t enough and she asked me to go to the atm. As I was walking away, another woman approached me and said that scammer often hung around the metro station and had conned lots of people, so not to feel bad that I gave her cash …

        • Dunno if multiple women are plying the same scam, but the one who used Stafford in her story was “about 35-45, quite tall (maybe 5’10” or 5’11”), big/plus-sized, and African-American (light/medium-skinned). She had somewhat ‘artistically’ done eyeliner, extending horizontally beyond each eye. Her hair was mostly gold-colored β€” maybe gold and auburn/reddish.”

  • I would NEVER hand my phone over to anyone. Maybe if a kid had a really convincing story, I would use speakerphone and also block my # before dialing.

  • Scams to beware of:
    .
    List of scams compiled in August 2014 by yours truly (includes the popular “two $10 bills for a $20” scam):
    http://www.popville.com/2014/08/an-impressive-compilation-of-scammers/
    .
    People claiming to need cash to buy deodorant (or laundry detergent or diapers or other easily resellable items):
    http://www.popville.com/2016/02/new-scam-alert-cash-to-buy-deodorant/
    .
    Someone telling you there’s a problem with your tire/car:
    http://www.popville.com/2016/06/scam-alert-he-tells-me-that-i-need-to-pull-over-my-tire-is-about-to-fall-off/
    http://www.popville.com/2015/11/heads-up-man-posing-as-a-good-samaritan-helping-with-car-trouble/
    .
    People claiming they’re Verizon techs to gain entry to homes:
    http://www.popville.com/2016/02/it-is-a-scam/
    .
    List of scams related to Pepco and scams in which third-party energy companies misrepresent themselves: http://www.popville.com/2015/02/heads-up-new-pepco-phone-scam/#comment-913368

  • Almost the exact same story happened to me and my friend maybe 2 years ago. The guy showed us a VA identification card too. Somewhere along the line, we figured it might be a con, but you also don’t want to be cruel if his story is in fact true. I ended up giving him $5 or something, which is all I had on me.

    Also! You should have checked the phone call record too. With our guy, he “talked” to someone at the VA for about 10 minutes, but the record afterward showed the call lasting less than 1 minute.

    • I saw the same guy maybe two years ago in Chinatown. He had identification papers and VA medical cards on him (photocopies, which immediately raised my suspicions). He asked to use my phone and I refused to let him have it, but I ended up making a call for him (no one answered at the VA hospital he asked that I contact). I figured I was being scammed, but went along with it trying to help him find somewhere to stay for the night until he asked for money, at which point I continued into metro. He’s pretty convincing, I can see how some people fall for it.

  • Question: What if YOU were in a situation where you needed the kindness of strangers? (This is not a shaming attempt. I don’t give to hard-luck stories either.) You lost your wallet, your phone is dead, you’re lost in an unfamiliar city.
    What could you do/ say that would convince the average person on the sidewalk to help you out? How could you make someone believe that you’re a normal, sane, honest person who just had all the bad luck today?
    Or, if that’s just impossible, how would you solve the problem?

    • If I’m lost in an unfamiliar city, or lost my phone/wallet, etc, my first go-to would be to go to a place of business, like a coffee shop or drug store, or a police station. I wouldn’t turn to a stranger on the street, except for directions to one of those places.

    • great question, and it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. I was actually in a situation (not terrible by any means) this past winter when my phone died after a junior league meeting. I asked a couple who was standing next to me at the bus stop if I could borrow their phone to call my husband since mine was dead. I thanked the couple profusely, and the lady said she let me borrow her phone because I was wearing high heels, and she assumed that I wouldn’t be able to run fast or far.

    • justinbc

      I would begin by asking if anyone knew of a local agency, police department, etc nearby where I could speak to someone who might genuinely view my situation for what it was, rather than being cautious about my position as a scammer. Usually people aren’t hesitant to give out basic information, and it’s not as though you would appear disheveled after just a few hours without phone / wallet / etc.

      • Justin, I ran into the man described in this post maybe a month ago. He didn’t ask for my phone, just gave me the number for the VFW to dial for him, and then left a message. He didn’t ask me for money, either, though I didn’t have cash on me and wasn’t comfortable going to an ATM. He looked a bit disheveled but not more so than anyone else who was out in the heat for a while. It’s a good scam; I considered paying for a room for him at the hostel and felt guilty for not having helped more. I mean, lesson learned, but there are so many people in genuine need it’s hard to build a defense. And maybe I don’t really want to.

        • justinbc

          Hey whatever works for you, I’m not trying to tell you how to act. I’m just answering WDC’s question about what I would do if I were genuinely stranded.

    • I’m a pretty well-seasoned traveler, so there are a few things I do to avoid this issue in the first place. I keep my debit card in my front pocket (debit specifically, so I can access cash or make purchases as necessary) and don’t keep all my credit cards in my wallet (I keep one in a different, separately secured, part of my bag from my wallet…different pocket of a backpack, inner zipper compartment of a purse). I have 2 batteries for my phone, plus one of those mobile chargers that can charge it twice, and keep a small universal wall charger with me. Still there’s the chance that I would be full-on mugged and lose all of this. I agree with others that I would ask for someone to call the police, or for directions to an open business or nearby police station to seek assistance.
      .
      That said, I have both been helped and helped others in different ways. A few years ago, after being dropped off by a family member at the airport, I realized 5 steps through the door that I had left my phone in their car. I stopped an airport employee and asked them where the pay phones were (yes, most airports still have pay phones, though they are fancier than you might remember, taking credit cards and allowing international calls). The guy asked me what was wrong, I told him I left my phone in my family member’s car, and family member had just driven off. He asked for a number, pulled out his cell phone, and once he spoke with my family member for two seconds (“hello, I have someone here who says she left her phone in your car”) handed the phone over to me and I said I’d be on the curb for them to bring it to me in 10 minutes. I was grateful for the quick action since it would have taken me a while to get to the pay phones and then figure out how to use them, so my family member wasn’t even off the airport premises because I was able to call so quickly.
      .
      Another time I was driving home with several friends in a near-blizzard when we saw a car broken down on the side of the road. We all commented how much that must suck given the weather, and I told one of my friends to get my cell phone out and call the state police to report the vehicle so they could get help quickly. Before my friend could even get my phone out, we see a man walking in the shoulder. We are easily 2 miles to the nearest exit, the nearest ANYTHING to that exit (store, gas station, even house) is a couple more miles, and did I mention it was a near-blizzard? So we pulled over and locked the doors, and the man came running up to the car. I kept the car in gear and told my friend in the passenger seat to only crack the window. We handed out my cell phone, he called a friend to come rescue him, he thanked us profusely explaining that his wife and kid were in the car, and we told him to hurry back to the car to wait for his help before he got frostbite or was hit by a snowplow. Yes, this was in the days before most people had cell phones (there were 4 of us in the car, all young adults, and I was the only one with a cell phone), but I think I’d still do the same today…I’d at least call the state police/911 (depending on what numbers I know off hand) and pull over and tell him through the cracked window to go back to his car, help is on the way.

  • Thinking about what you would do is exactly how you don’t fall for this. What would have to happen for you to ask a stranger for money or use of their cell phone? 1000 things would bounce through my head as options before I’d ask for cash on the street or use of a random cell phone. I’d walk into a coffee shop or business and respectfully ask to use a land line for example. And I can’t help but note the amount of money people are being approached for. There’s always a way to solve a screw up like those cited here for less than $20.

  • jessicaraven

    When I was homeless, I asked people for $2 to get on the NYC subway. I asked more people than I needed to get on the train. I asked strangers for quarters to make calls from pay phones so I could hit up everyone I knew for a place to sleep, but I couldn’t explain all of that, so I said, “I just need fifty cents to make a call.” I asked for more quarters than I needed to make the calls, because I also wanted to eat. I also wanted to plan to get on the subway the next night, in case I couldn’t find another place to sleep.

    My point is: fall for the scam. Fall for it every single time because people experiencing homelessness need your help to meet their very basic needs.

    • Most of the scams people are describing here (with the exception of people getting others to purchase deodorant or food for them, and then reselling/returning it) aren’t being perpetrated by people who are homeless, though.

      • jessicaraven

        I’m not exactly sure how you’re determining that, but I’d extend the same empathy to folks who are on the verge of homelessness.

        • The people perpetrating most of these scams aren’t claiming to be homeless; they’re claiming to need money for a cab ride out to the exurbs, or to get to their daughter at the hospital, etc., etc.
          .
          I don’t see any reason to assume they’re homeless (or on the verge of homelessness) if they’re not claiming to be homeless, don’t appear to be disheveled, and are delivering elaborate, detailed stories. They’re just people who’ve chosen to make a living by scamming (or who’ve chosen it as a second job).

          • jessicaraven

            I think it’s more likely that people would hide the fact that they’re experiencing (or at risk of experiencing) homelessness, because of the way that you’re treated when you are homeless. It’s like you’re invisible or not even human; it’s a treatment I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. That’s why a lot of people who may be asking for money on the street might preface it by saying: “I’m not homeless” because it helps others remember to see them as human.

            I hope that’s a helpful explanation, and I hope you never experience homelessness or the level of poverty that might put you in a position where you’re forced to use lies to keep yourself alive.

          • I don’t dispute that people who are homeless are treated as though they’re invisible — not at all.
            .
            I just suspect you’re extending your generosity of spirit/benefit of the doubt to people who 1) aren’t homeless and 2) are actively seeking to make good money, not seeking just to get by (as in the examples you described from your own experience). As JoDa pointed out, the scammers most people are describing here aren’t interested in $2 here or fifty cents there; they’re looking for $20, $40, etc.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I think the issue that we’re slowly meandering toward here is that some people would rather get “scammed” a dozen times and help a person in need once than get scammed zero times and also fail to help the person who is truly in need, and to a great many find that to be wrong or at least strange.

    • $2 or $.50 is a whole different ball game from these scammers. $20 is a minimum ask. A group of friends and I were asked for over $100, and I subsequently saw that same guy try to pull the same scam on 5 more people over the next couple of weeks (he always approached groups, and seemed to adjust the ask so that it worked out to $10-20/person in the group, so it didn’t seem like such a big number when divvied up). And they always know where an ATM is if you happen to only have $5 or a farecard (not relevant anymore in DC, but back then it was). That’s a scam. Asking for a few dollars or some loose change to make phone calls, ride the subway, or get something to eat is worlds away from what these guys are doing.

      • Sure, but admittedly, if he asked for $2 to stay at a hostel, you probably wouldn’t believe him. If you’re going to lie for the purpose of duping people out of their money, this story seems like a good one (as is clear from the number of people here it fooled). I see no difference between asking for a great deal more money or $2 if both are done under false pretense.

        • I don’t necessarily see Jessica’s story as “false pretenses.” She admits she was riding the subway, making phone calls, and buying food, the things she asked for money for, and which cost the amount she asked for. While pay phones are non-existent anymore, a subway ride and food are not many, many times more expensive than they were 10 years ago. Beyond that, even if the person is going to turn and walk right into a bodega and buy the cheapest alcohol they can find, $2 is a whole lot less of a hit than 10-50x that much.
          .
          To Jessica below…DC has extremely generous public services, including putting people in hotels when there are no shelter rooms available. Minors, women, and families are nearly guaranteed services if requested. It might not be ideal, but I already support those services (both through generous taxpayer funding and direct donations) and can’t really afford to support all those who decide they don’t want what’s offered separately and directly. Plus, most of these scammers don’t appear to be the downtrodden homeless. The couple who have attempted to hit me have been well-groomed, well-spoken, and not apparently under the influence. To put it in perspective for you, the amount requested by the scammer I highlighted was approximately what I earned, after taxes, in a day. If I “fell for the scam every time” (remember, I saw this same scammer *6* times in about 3 weeks) as you insinuate we should, *I* would have been homeless. I feel for the homeless, but insinuating that everyone should just fork over large sums of money whenever requested, even in the face of what are almost surely brazen lies, is a bridge too far.

          • She asked for money for the subway and used it for food or other necessities. That’s as much as a lie (even if an understandable one) as this guy asking for $60 for a hotel room.

          • I’ll give you that, Duponter, but I do think it’s a big lie/small lie issue, when speaking to these specific circumstances. The small fib (and it’s more of a fib than a lie since Jessica notes that she might use the money to ride the subway tomorrow rather than immediately or call a friend in a few days when she’s hard-up rather than that night) isn’t something that is potentially going to have a material impact on the “askees” finances. Nearly 30 people could have asked us for the then-maximum Metro fare for what that one guy was asking. A friend was recently taken by the “money for a locksmith” scam, and it cost her everything she made that day at work. If nothing, these big-lie scammers make it less likely that kindhearted people will give small help when it would really help.
            .
            As an aside, that is one major downside to Metro doing away with paper farecards. I used to always have a couple low-value ones in my wallet ($3-5), and would offer them if someone asked for Metro fare (even occasionally a friend who forgot their wallet at home…”come on by my desk, I’ve got a farecard that will get you home”). Offering that was also a “tell” as to whether they really needed it. That actually happened the first time we ran into the highlighted scammer…we told him where he could get help and scrounged up a farecard out of someone’s wallet to get him there, and he turned it down.

      • jessicaraven

        It’s been more than 10 years since I could get by on asking a lot of different people for $2, or 50 cents. At the time, I was under 18 and couldn’t have used the money on a hotel, but if it were today, I’d likely ask for larger amounts and try to get a hotel room. I’m also a mother now, so I’d likely have to think about basic necessities like food, diapers, and wipes. I hope that puts the amount into perspective.

    • I don’t mean to minimize your experiences, but I don’t like to give to people on the street and I prefer to give to organizations that know what they are doing and that can measure performance. It also keeps me safer (I think there should be a code among anyone asking random strangers to never approach a woman alone).

      So why didn’t you go to a shelter or a church or the police or a social worker or a clinic or one of the many places that are set up to help people who are in dire circumstances? I can understand why people who are mentally ill would choose to stay away from these places, but you seem to have your wits about you. What turned you off from these places?

      I truly don’t mean to be insensitive…sorry if my writing makes it seem that way.

      • jessicaraven

        I appreciate your asking in such a sensitive way! I actually went to Covenant House in New York, but one of the problems that I found with youth services was that there wasn’t a lot of investigation into the reasons youth became homeless in the first place, and so, at the time, if service providers were able, they’d often send kids back to situations where they may be experiencing physical and/or sexual abuse by caregivers. It took years until I was placed into the foster care system, and even once I was placed in foster care, I was shuffled from home to home and frequently ended up back on the street.

        There are a lot of gaps in services for youth, and I was 15 at the time that I was homeless. One of the gaps is that, for example, if there’s emergency housing available, there’s a time limit on it. Right now, it’s nearly impossible for unaccompanied youth to access long-term supportive housing. Youth shelters like Wanda Alston House and Casa Ruby are already at capacity, so there’s nowhere for most kids to go. When those gaps are not filled by kind-hearted samaritans, they’re more likely to be filled by people who will sexually exploit and abuse homeless youth who otherwise have nowhere to turn.

        Many youth who experience homelessness and never access stable housing then grow up to be homeless adults. I understand your policy about not giving to people on the street, but sometimes, even if it’s just something small, it can really help an individual feel like a human being again. Besides giving them a chance to get a bite to eat, that feeling of being seen and cared about helps with the depression and mental instability that often comes with the trauma of experiencing homelessness – and all the violence that goes along with it.

  • One morning as I left my home near Lamont and Sherman, a twenty-something guy approached me saying he’d been in a car accident the night before. His car had been towed and he needed cab fare to get home. As “evidence” of the accident, he was holding a side-view mirror from a car.

    It was obvious he hadn’t been in an accident, but as some other posters have mentioned, it was clear he was in a bad place and needed money, so I gave him a couple bucks.

    I got to my car to head to work, and guess who’s side-view mirror was missing…

  • The only time I can recall giving money to someone on the street recently was a guy near the Harris Teeter in NoMA who was trying to sell me what I’m guessing were stolen DC keychains. I was going to ignore him but he helped me load my groceries in my car (without me asking) and I gave him $5. At least he exerted some actual effort that benefited me and wasn’t simply asking for money for nothing. It is actually pretty smart really. I have no inclination to give someone money who simply asks for it from me and every single person walking by while sitting there, but he went out of his way to earn it without knowing I was going to actually give him anything. And he didn’t lie to get it. I am guessing that pays off a great deal more than just “Do you have a dollar?” to every person who walks by.

    • I personally consider situations like that more “hustling” than “scamming.” In one place I lived, my neighbors and I couldn’t do anything around the grounds without someone offering to help/do it “for a few dollars.” They weren’t lying that they would pull our weeds/clean up trash around the building/repaint a door frame/help us carry stuff/etc. Sometimes we accepted, sometimes we declined (I never let anyone help me carry stuff inside, for example), but, to me, that falls firmly under “not a scam.” Plus, they weren’t asking me for $50+ to clean up trash around the yard and pluck a few weeds for 20-30 minutes…they were perfectly happy with $10 and a freeze pop for that, or at least they seemed to be since they kept coming back and asking to do it again.
      .
      Though I will saying forcing the issue is more akin to things like squeeging than hustling. You didn’t ask, and it doesn’t sound like you had the chance to say no. Still, as you said, at least he did something for the money.

  • I was asked for $50 outside of Rose’s Luxury last winter — it must have been the coldest day of the year and very windy. It was a young (20s) white guy, dressed like a college kid, etc. Claimed his sister’s car broke down on the freeway and it was going to get towed if they didn’t get it off the road before the cops/DPW did. Much more to the story that I didn’t really care to try to follow because it just didn’t seem to make sense. My sister couldn’t stop herself from giving him the $50, but I was so cynical, I demanded to see his driver’s license. He allowed me to photograph his driver’s license and his face. I still have it on my phone in case I hear anything like this story again. He probably wouldn’t have let me photograph him if he was just a random scammer. Or maybe he was and he decided to take his game somewhere else.

  • I saw this guy on Thomas circle last week!! I don’t usually stop when people try to ask me questions but I felt kind of guilty that time! I am so happy I did not stop. Thanks for sharing!

  • The saddest part: one day there’s going to be a for-real old vet, lost and broke on the streets of DC, and we’re all going to give him the finger.

  • I never give money. If they have a drug or alcohol problem I don’t want to contribute to that. But I will give Or buy food. If the need is genuine they won’t be angry at not getting money. I was near a coffee/pastry shop recently and a man asked for money to get coffee. I said I would be happy to get the coffee. He was grateful. I said you really must have a delicious muffin to go with it. So I brought the muffin and the coffee and he started to walk towards a bench away from the bakery. I said why don’t you stay here and eat? You’re a customer! So he did and he was happy. There is a lot you can do to assist someone and support their dignity without handing out cash.

  • I met this guy in January near the EPA building – he was extremely convincing and I let him use my phone, where he had an extensive call with VFW. Also he told me it was his birthday (I know, I shouldn’t have fallen for this) and I ended up giving him 20$ . On the home I looked at my phone and that extensive call was 7 sec long.

    And now I don’t trust anyone and never give anyone money ever.

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