Recent Con Artist Encounters

Smithsonian Metro, weekend afternoon
Guy in wheelchair, late middle age, long graying hair tied back, carrying a green ID with the word “guest” on it. Rolls up to me, showing the “guest” ID. “Excuse me, sir, my daughter and I are Katrina refugees and we need some help.” I tell him no, sorry, and he goes on to someone else.

Union Station Metro, Monday morning
“Hey man, change these to a twenty?” guy holds out a fistful of fives. Being too nice, and without pausing to wonder why a guy would want to change to a bigger bill, I hand him a loose twenty. He gives me the fives. There are, of course, only three bills. “Hey, hey,” I say loudly. He still holds the twenty in his hand, and I quickly grab it back and give him back his fives. “Dude, nice try,” I say with a smirk.

Mr. Fifteen sighs and grins back, “This town’s changed, man,” he says. “But I can tell you’re from around here.” Whatever that means.

Pentagon City Metro, weekend afternoon
It’s Katrina Refugee Wheelchair guy again. He passes by me, but instead of launching into the expected “my daughter and I are refugees” spiel, he simply says, “Can I have a dollar to get something to eat?” Pleased by this simple honesty, I give him a dollar.

Waterfront area near Safeway, weekday night
White guy, early 20s, spiky hair and earring, walks with a bit of swagger. “Excuse me, sir, I need some help. I’m from around here,” he points at a building behind the Safeway which I thought was abandoned, “and my Dad’s in Columbia, Maryland, and I just found out he’s very sick and might be dying. I’m out of cash but I need $20 to get on a bus to see him. Can you help out?”

I pause for a bit, smile, and say, “No.” Then I keep walking.

NO?” he yells after me. You’d think he’d never been brushed off by a mark before. “Whaddaya mean ‘NO?!'”

“What, do I look like a tourist or something?” I toss back over my shoulder as I head for the Metro.

“Well, that’s real nice,” he calls from across the street. “GOD BLESS YOU, MAN.”

Same area, six months later
The same kid comes up to me in front of Safeway, this time carrying what looks like an empty gas can. “Excuse me, sir,” he starts, “I’m out of gas and I forgot my wallet, do you think you could-”

“Hi there!” I cry out to him, real friendly-like, “hey, how’s your Dad?”

“My…huh? Oh, my Dad, he’s uh-”

“Nice prop! A gas can! No, I’m not giving you anything!” But by now he is heading off to find another mark.

Capitol South Metro, Saturday morning
“I need some help, sir,” says the guy pacing the platform, “I just locked myself out of my car, and I need twenty dollars to-”


“Aw c’mon man-”


Union Station Metro, Monday afternoon

Guy pushing EIR in my face. “Want to help impeach Cheney and overthrow the British monarchy’s worldwide drug cartel?”

“Hey wow, so LaRouche is out of jail now?”

“Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet just because you can google LaRouche, man! I can google for brain surgery and find stuff, man! Haw haw haw!” (He seriously said that, then made a very fake sounding laugh.)

“No fascist demagoguery for me, please. Enjoy the cult.”

“LaRouche is the new FDR! Economic disaster is coming! Impeach Cheney and stop Gore’s global warming scam!” (Okay, he didn’t really say all that, it’s just the standard slogans sung or yelled from their card table shrines.)

Farragut North Metro, yesterday
It’s Katrina Refugee Wheelchair guy again. I recognize him but apparently he doesn’t recognize me. The spiel begins, “Sir, me and my daughter are Katrina refugees and we’ve been living in a FEMA trailer-”

“You’re still refugees?”

“Well, you know-”

“No. Play your grift elsewhere. Why are you at Farragut North, anyway? There are hardly any gullible tourists here.”

Katrina Refugee Wheelchair guy makes a face, then rolls off to some other mark.

(Someone out there, please tell me, am I being too mean? Somehow, I doubt a Katrina refugee with a daughter would insist on living around one of the most expensive cities in America, even to panhandle, so I lean more towards thinking of this guy as a fraudster.)

Seriously, I don’t know why I keep getting these guys. Are there just that many in DC, or do I just look like a real rube and an ideal mark? Thank goodness I watch LOST.

13 Comments so far

  1. Ex-Hy Hy (unregistered) on July 13th, 2007 @ 5:11 pm

    Yes, yes you are being mean. With the exception of Mr. $15 (you should have kept the fives after snatching your twenty – fair’s fair), I don’t see much evidence that any of these people are necessarily con artists. Just giving somebody a handful of change isn’t going to move them out of a FEMA trailer, or bring their deceased dad back (seriously – that guy could be poor as dirt).

    That said, I would also not be surprised if all of these people were con artists. But I don’t think it’s so slam-dunk that you should come on here and brag about being an asshole to them.

  2. Ex-Hy Hy (unregistered) on July 13th, 2007 @ 5:14 pm

    And by the way, that does not mean I’m naive or a good mark; I don’t give money to ANYBODY. I dont’ give an eff how reasonable a bum’s story sounds, for all I know he or she will snatch my wallet and run once I take it out.

  3. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on July 13th, 2007 @ 5:18 pm

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve seen pretty much every con that the street has to offer, and it’s always frustrating. Just about the only thing that moves me anymore is the Ninjas Killed My Family routine.

  4. Anon (unregistered) on July 13th, 2007 @ 6:02 pm

    I work at the Whitman Walker Clinic and we CONSTANTLY get calls from people asking about donations they made/do we do street solicitations. Usually this occurs at Farragut West or Archives Navy Memorial Metro stations and though we’ve complained to MPD many times they don’t do anything about it.

    Con artists are everywhere, that’s why I don’t give to a panhandler unless I know them (i.e. have seen them in the same spot for awhile and actually talked to them). SOme really really need our help and should be helped, others are just fraudsters.

    I used to work at Farragut West and there was a guy who would be on crutches, or sit next to them to beg. At the end of the day after most of the traffic had cleared out it wasn’t uncommon to see him hail a cab and walk over to it without a problem throw his stuff in the back and head home.

  5. don (unregistered) on July 13th, 2007 @ 9:39 pm

    tom i got a pic of the ninjas dude when we were in seattle.

  6. PSolus (unregistered) on July 13th, 2007 @ 11:32 pm

    Uh, you know, you don’t have to engage in a conversation with everyone who approaches you on the street. Learn to shake your head, or just say no.

  7. Carl Weaver (unregistered) on July 13th, 2007 @ 11:41 pm

    I don’t give money to panhandlers. Mostly they want to get another drink or a spike in their arm. Helping them toward that goal isn’t something I want to be part of.

    Having worked quite closely with the homeless recently (three of the past four years), I have a strong desire to help them but few of them can be helped by cash donations.

    If anyone wants to give, I suggest the Salvation Army. They provide food and beds for people who need them. SA is one of the few organizations that says they help the homeless that actually fights on the front lines of the problem. You have to respect that.

    I’ve been hustled for money in at least four countries and told people to go hump themselves in at least three languages. I don’t mind telling people to get lost.

    Paulo – the guy with the gas can maybe really did need gas. Maybe his dad was in bad shape that one time. We will never know. Sometimes people create their own bad fortunes and sometimes it is created for them. I try to give people alternatives to being hustlers and jackasses but I also try to have compassion for them and the situation they are in, that they think they need to do such low things as beg for money.

    I don’t mind buying someone a sandwich but I won’t give them money. Except in Thailand once, when I swear the sad, crying mother I handed money to was holding her lifeless baby. Certainly nearly lifeless. It was the saddest thing ever. 50 cents I gave her and she bowed to me like I was a god. It broke my heart.

  8. Wayan (unregistered) on July 14th, 2007 @ 6:37 am

    DC has nothing on Nai-robbery, the con man world capitol. Walking down the street there, you get a con a block, and many worth the $1-3 just for the entertainment,

    Back in DC, I’ve been entertained by the gas can man back in the mid-90’s when I used to lurk around the Smithsonian loving me some art,

    A guy walked up to me one night around the Freer Gallery with a gas can talking about needing $5 for gas to get his family on the road to Baltimore (remember when $5 in gas would get you somewhere?).

    Thinking quick, I asked him where a gas station was in walking distance to the Mall so I could fill up his car. I then had five minutes of free entertainment as the con listed locations and I shot down his answers.

    He walked off in frustration but not in memory – the very next week he tired the same con on me in almost the same spot.

  9. Wayan (unregistered) on July 14th, 2007 @ 6:39 am

    Here’s just one of those Nai-robbery scams that I enjoyed in Kenya.

  10. Brock (unregistered) on July 14th, 2007 @ 10:20 am

    I met Katrina Guy at Pentagon City a few weeks ago, and a guy like Mr. $15 at Crystal City a few days after that. He held up two $10’s and asked for a $20. I didn’t know why he’d need a bigger bill either, but I had it so I traded him. As I was turning to walk away, he said “Sir, wait!” and when I turned back around, he was holding up a single like I had given him that instead of a $20 by mistake. Thankfully, I knew I had just spent my last singles on dinner, because I grab the wrong bill all the time. I said “Dude, I gave you a $20. What the fuck are you trying to pull?!” He tried something like, “Oh, no man, I wanted twenty singles, for a cab!”

    In retrospect, I should have grabbed the $20 back and kept his $10’s.

  11. Molly (unregistered) on July 14th, 2007 @ 6:16 pm

    if someone’s hungry, buy them food…buy them coffee…don’t give them money. I used to carry McDonald’s gift certificates around during the holidays for things like that.

  12. smouie kablooie (unregistered) on July 15th, 2007 @ 11:19 am

    as a native I’ve enjoyed growing up and watching the same guys wear the same “uniforms” and post themselves around the area with the same stories about the need for money, gas, etc. my favorie is big fat white guy with cane, white tshirt, and backback, who tends to work the old town area. i particluarly like him because i see him take the metro to “work” sometimes…

    the only con that i ever thought had a good thing going was a guy i used to see work the streets of Oxford, England. I was in a coffeehouse on the second story of a building – and accross the way I saw this guy lay out his cardboard box seating pad – put out his cup – and begin to beg for money. I used to pass him on the way to class – but this was the first time i actually got to observe his work. This is the kind of kid who asks for money and says “god bless you” or something similar when you don’t give him any…

    anyways as the day wore on, it got darker, and i guess it was quitting time. he folded up his box, grabbed his cup – honestly – was escorted to a car and driven away by a beautiful girl in a nice car. I don’t know how much he was making – but he seemed to be doing ok haha

  13. Kate (unregistered) on July 15th, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

    I don’t give money or change as a rule. Sometimes people are in desparate situations, and poverty and homelessness will drive people to do strange things. Others see easy money. I don’t begin to try to tell the difference.

    Just because the people who are asking you for money are “conning” you doesn’t mean they don’t need money just as much as the next person with a simple sign. Now, they may be successful, or less successful. And the people who pick them up or drop them off may or may not be family members. They may be people who have adopted them and are trying to bring them back on the road to recovery.

    But giving someone a little change helps them continue this cycle, instead of forcing them, and forcing society, to find other avenues for the poor, homeless, and the mentally ill.

    Mental illness, more than anything else, creates the people who ask for money. And until our society truly understands this, and understands that mental illness is not a “personal responsbility issue” we will continue to have converstations about the people who have fallen out of mainstream society but yet are everyhere.

    The unfortunate part is, that it will take a long time of people forced into begging, conning, pick-pocketing, assault, and garbage can eating until we do something about the larger systemic problems that cause this.

    Often, the person in the nice car may be family, and they want to stop the person from continuing this, but find themselves unable to do so, and confused about what they should do. Thus they enable the behavior, and they in the end help to enable the rest of the society to look at this issue without the proper perspective.

    Whether someone appears to be utterly tragic, a jerk, or a con, I really see it all as part of the same problem, and one we are no where near where we need to be to deal with it as a society.

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