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New Scam Alert: “cash to buy deodorant”

by Prince Of Petworth February 5, 2016 at 9:48 am 65 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user nevermindtheend

“Dear PoPville,

A man in a tie just stopped me on the Columbia Heights metro platform, flashed a “resume” at me, claimed he had an interview at Giant and asked for cash to buy deodorant. I offered to take him to CVS and buy it for him and he kept refusing and insisting on cash, then he told me to get on the train to work when I refused to go to the ATM for him. He then kept walking up and down the platform trying to scam more people and got real angry when I followed him and called him out on it.

Just a warning to others.”

  • Daniel

    There’s a woman who hangs out in front of the CVS on Connecticut Ave and K Street and asks people entering to buy her a varying list of personal care products — deodorant, laundry detergent, shampoo. I’ve obliged a few times. She tells me she’s got several daughters and lives in a shelter. So unless she’s got some other racket going on, she’s the legit version of OP’s scamster.

    • stacksp

      Those personal care products especially laundry detergent are good flips on the street. Its the same way as asking for money. In a lot of neighborhoods laundry detergent is held behind the counter or near the register as is baby formula.

    • textdoc

      I don’t know about deodorant and shampoo, but there’s apparently a black market for laundry detergent. So it’s possible that the detergent is being resold.

    • CapitalDame

      She also asks for weirdly specific things. She once asked me for a very specific type of body wash, in a specific scent. It was $13, and it wasn’t medicated or anything! I didn’t even realize they sold $13 body wash at CVS.

  • jdc

    I don’t really think that’s a “scam”, certainly not on the change-for-a-$20 level. It’s just a dude using false pretenses to beg for money.

  • Seen it all before

    Rule 1: Never give anyone cash “to buy something”. They are scam artists. Plus giving away cash on the street is inherently dangerous.
    Rule 2: Never offer to buy them that “something”. They are scam artists and you gain nothing by engaging in a transactionw ith them inovlved.
    Rule 3: Don’t engage them in any conversation beyond “no”, “sorry”. They are scam artists and you gain nothing by extending the situation.
    Rule 4: Carry on with your business. Let them scam someone else.

    • anon

      I mean, it’s not about you “gaining anything,” though. If you decide to give someone some cash or whatever else because they ask for it, you’re doing it to help them out in some way, not for personal gain.

      • Seen it all before

        No, you’re doing it to make yourself feel better. So it is about “personal gain”. Personal emotional gain, that is.

        The panhandlers are banking on this exact feeling…that you’ll sympathsize with their displayed status/situation, and that by having you hand over cash, they get cash and you feel good about yourself. So everyone wins, I guess.

        • anon

          Agree to disagree, I guess. I don’t give money to panhandlers to feel good about myself, I give it because they clearly need it more than I do at that moment.

          *talking more broadly here, not about specific guy in OP’s example

          • Anonymouse

            “I don’t give money to panhandlers to feel good about myself, I give it because they clearly need it more than I do at that moment.”
            So you feel guilty that you have more money than them, if not outright pity for their situation, and to alleviate that guilt you give them a few dollars. That’s a self-serving behavior. Actions can have multiple motives, but the satisfaction that you get from helping someone else probably plays a much bigger role in your decision than you want to believe.

          • anon

            @Anonymouse fair enough.

          • TropicBird

            Lately I’ve noticed the panhandlers have better shoes and jackets than I do!
            My friend that works with the homeless says it is better to give donations to shelters and places that can help. Most of the time the money goes to drugs and booze. Don’t give money to panhandlers unless it makes you feel good to help an addict feed his addiction. Some of the crazy homeless people have more money in the bank than you’e think, because they collect government disability support but don’t use it. One lady who used to camp out at my old bus stop said she was afraid to go to the bank because her ex-husband was Superman and if she went to the ATM “he would find her.”
            My friend told me about how he was worried about a panhandling lady he used to see near his work at L’Enfant because she didn’t show up. A few hours later he looked out his office window to see her getting out of a Cadillac with what looked like her son helping her off load her pile of props she used. To make suckers feel sorry for her.

        • atlascesar


        • atlascesar

          i would much rather pay higher taxes and have a properly run public support system that could ensure that people who need assistance get the help they need.

        • SWChick

          Or youre just nice.

        • Colhi

          I think it was Jesus that said do not give unto the poor as it is only a selfish act to make you feel better.

          • On Capital Heels

            That is not at all what He said. Please study that Scripture more carefully.

      • C_petworth

        Just be aware however if you do buy those specific person care good or laundry detergent that they are flipped for drug money. This really happens. I never give cash or care goods, if someone looks in bad shape you can always offer to buy them food.

    • Josh


    • GW

      How is giving away cash on the street inherently dangerous?

      • stacksp

        In this ladies scenario about going to the ATM etc. and him/her following her around like that it could’ve been very dangerous. IMO she spent way too much time with a stranger. Hand him a stick of deodorant if you choose to and keep it moving or just say no. Seems like they were all over the place.

        • GW

          I agree in this particular scenario where she is being followed around or any scenario where someone is asking you to go to an ATM. My question was directed at the above poster’s blanket statement that that it’s dangerous to give away money. I don’t understand what’s “inherently dangerous” about offering a small amount of cash or change to someone. As flieswithhoney notes below, I usually carry a few dollars loose in my pocket to give if someone asks so that I don’t have to take my wallet out of my pocket. I’ve never felt it to be a dangerous situation to hand over a dollar or loose change to someone.

      • flieswithhoney

        Because unless you had a couple of dollars already in your hand, you have to pull out your wallet which can be grabbed and/or shows the whole sidewalk that you have more than a few dollars. My mom taught me to keep a few singles in my pocket should you want to help anyone without having to open my wallet/purse.

        • anon

          +1. I try to keep a few singles in my pocket for this purpose, so I don’t have to pull my wallet out on the street.

        • GW

          Agreed and I do the same. I still don’t see the “inherent” danger in giving someone money on the street.

          • Seen it before

            It’s the same inherent danger of having exposed technology while on the Metro, or having valuables visible within your car. It’s a public demonstration to any nefarious people nearby that you have “wealth” (in whatever form) on you and that you’re willing to take it off your body/out of your wallet.

            Keep your valuables on your body, out of sight, and in your custody. Better to be cold and cynical than regretful later on.

          • GW

            Perhaps better for you. I would personally rather not live my life in fear and would prefer to possess a willingness to help others. I also don’t see how giving a dollar to someone shows “wealth.” By your logic, you shouldn’t patronize food trucks or other street vendors.

            To each their own.

          • seen it before

            Don’t live in fear, just reality. In fact, all of those measures I told you are passive in nature, so I never really have to worry about it. Just part of my routine and puts me more at ease.

            I help others all the time too, if you need to know (Happy Friday, Mr holier-than-me). I just don’t help out scam artists…I don’t see the point.

    • stacksp

      I have bought sandwiches for individuals who seemed to be desperately hungry but yeah its just about helping others out. Everyone has been down on their luck before. .

      • The OP Anon

        I will buy food if they ask – no issue there.
        But no cash, no merchandise that can be traded, no booze, no cigs.
        However, most NEVER want food. They want something fungible.

        • seen it before

          Yeah I still can’t believe that people aren’t aware of how all this stuff works.

          You give them cash, they take the cash and do whatever with it.

          You give them something worth $10, they fence it/re-sell it and the $7 cash and do whatever with it.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I was once approached by a young man, probably late teens or early twenties, who specifically asked me to buy him some cigarettes *so that he could re-sell them to earn some more money.* I appreciated his honestly and respected the hustle, so I actually bought them for him. I figure if he uses the money to buy drugs or alcohol, that’s his business, not mine – as a guy who charges most things and has all of my bills on auto-debit, the fact that I had the money on my person already meant it was earmarked for nothing good.

          • seen it before

            and who says that DC doesn’t have a venture capital scene?

    • anon

      what a thoughtful, caring person you must be /sarcasm

  • Common Sense

    That stinks.

  • Mark

    Panhandling of any kind is illegal on Metro buses, trains, in stations and on platforms, and the person you should be calling out is the station manager who isn’t doing his job, which is to shoo that person away. You may not believe this but that rule was actually pretty well enforced for a long time, and Metro’s passengers were all the better for it.

    OTOH I am a somewhat ambivalent about you following this person around and messing with his schtick.

    • Anonymouse

      “OTOH I am a somewhat ambivalent about you following this person around and messing with his schtick.”
      I thought that was a little odd as well.

    • Dognonymous

      I’ve reported scams on the platform to station managers on several occasions, and they don’t do anything. On one occasion at the Archives station, I even got a “oh, that’s just Larry doing his thing” when I reported someone doing the “change from a $20 bit. In theory, you’re absolutely right, but in practice, few station managers are going to do anything that requires them to get out of their booth. I can’t really fault the OP for doing his or her best to stifle the scammer’s schtick.

    • OP

      OP here. I did get the station manager, who tracked the guy down on the platform (I didn’t see how it was resolved because I had to get to work).

      And I didn’t follow him around for a long time, I just noticed when he tried it with two other people and walked over to intervene and call him out on it. Those people were both grateful and said so.

      But way to harsh on someone as “odd” for trying to do right by others and prevent them from getting scammed. Jeez.

      • Mark

        I’m not “harshing” on you. I’m just ambivalent. For one thing you don’t actually know that this was a scam: you just suspect it strongly (as do I). And although I don’t personally give money to people who are panhandling, I also don’t consider it my place to assess the truth of their stories, or, more generally, their need. So I definitely wouldn’t consider it my place to push that judgment onto third parties. Anyway, It happens that I don’t believe even the truly needy ought to be asking for money within metro, so good on you for talking to the station manager.

        • OP

          He gave a log story about his interview, told me three times not to laugh at him, and asked me for help buying soap and deodorant. So I said sure, let’s go to CVS and he said no, don’t you have to get to work, just give me cash. And I said no, I’ll go to CVS but I had no cash. He said no, that he didn’t have money because he got kicked out of his apartment so he can’t get back on through the metro gates, so I could just give him some cash. And I said I’d buy him a smart trip to get back through the gates. And he said no, just go to the ATM, at which point I said “you’re lying, aren’t you, and you just are trying to scam me for cash” at which point he told me to get on the train to go to work and leave him alone.
          My reaction over the next 5 minutes was (a) to warn others he was also trying this with, (b) get the station manager, and (c) email Popville to warn the neighborhood. I tried to go way out of my way to help strangers avoid getting scammed, but I suppose on the internet it’s easy to find a way to criticize the actions that I had to think through quickly on a metro platform when you have 20/20 hindsight from the comments section.
          Not fair, dude, and it is harsh. I’m not perfect, I was just trying to help.

          • CapitalDame

            THANK YOU, OP! I for one appreciate the heads up. It’s not unfamiliar, but a reminder cannot hurt.

    • seen it before

      “and the person you should be calling out is the station manager ”

      Or you can mind your own business and not be a nosy neighbor.

      • textdoc

        And allow the scammer to continue trying to scam people?

        • seen it before

          better him than me. i find that intervening on behalf of others by bringing someone else in means that you now have upwards of three more people (the victim, the scammer, and the person you’re brining to intervene), when 5 seconds ago it was just me on my own business.

          Sorry, but when it comes to a stranger, unless their life and limb is at stake, they’re on their own. How do I even know that the “victim” is really a victim and not part of a larger con?

      • Mark

        You call the station manager because this is an illegal activity which degrades the environment for everyone and encourages more and worse of the same. Last time through Columbia Heights metro with my spouse, there were panhandlers inside both entrances verbally harassing the females who passed by. Metro has undertaken to keep its spaces clean, safe and harassment free, and one of its rules prohibits panhandling. We should hold metro to its obligations, and do our part to help.

        • seen it before

          Harrassment =/= conning. If someone asks me for moeny or free stuff, and leaves me alone after I don’t go along, I have no issues. Annoying but certainly nothing worth running off and raising the red flag over.

          Your issue seems to be with harrassment, which is a different animal altogether.

          • Mark

            Perhaps you don’t have an issue with it, but metro did, and does (at least on paper), and in my opinion, ought to, for a reason you must be deliberately overlooking: allowing panhandlers encourages more panhandlers, and, in sufficient quantities even the most righteous panhandling becomes a kind of harassment. It is getting worse — by which I mean more people are doing it, and some of them are doing it in a worse way. — and it will continue to get worse until metro starts enforcing its existing policies. Seems like common sense to me, but maybe I’m wrong.

  • wdc

    Makes me think of Bubbles, from The Wire. Remember how he went entrepreneurial for a while, selling socks and toilet paper and stuff from a grocery cart to the other addicts in Hamsterdam? I don’t remember if they addressed how he got the stuff.

    • Anon

      He had kima bank the money he was receiving from his CI work, and then started buying white t-s and then reinvesting in his business.

  • Dcer

    One thing I’ve encountered several times is people asking to borrow my phone. I’ve never obliged for obvious reasons, but there was one lady who appeared very respectable/not shady. She said her husband had gotten on the previous train and she was a tourist and was lost (unclear where her own phone was…). Anyway, I was trying to evaluate her and figure out if she could be trusted, but I guess I took too long to respond because she said “Actually nevermind” and ran away. Weird.

    • seen it before

      she moved on to another mark

  • DupontDad

    Reminds me of the kids that ring the doorbell and plead for $15 for a cab to get to the hospital where their mom was taken by ambulance following a heart attack or other medical problem. The first time I felt really bad and shelled out paper. The second time I knew I’d been had.

  • Anonymous

    So the takeway is that there are people out there who are trying to scam other people out of money. Got it.

  • AdMo

    If anyone asks you for anything, there is a 90% chance it’s a scam.


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