We’ve all seen it. The poor guy standing at the entrance of a shopping mall, seeminly lost and in need of help. He approaches and says that he needs money to stay for just one night, and that his friends will be coming tomorrow and then all will be good. Would you help him? This is a very nice gentleman that seems very sincere and if in case he is really speaking the truth, turning him down would just make one poor soul’s day very hard.
Today I was approached by that dude. Long story short, I gave him some money, then I went for dinner. On my way back after my dinner, I saw him standing at the exact same spot talking to another stranger. Oh well. I’ve learned another lesson.
That got me thinking, though. Would there be a way for me to distinguish the real helpless poeple from this lowly parasites? On the long way back home I’ve come up with a couple of strategies:
You know when you stay at a hotel they need to collect deposit from you upon check in? That’s to protect the hotel from you running away without checking out. Surprisingly, I think this would be a really effective strategy to mess up the scammers’ routines. You can give him money, but only on the condition that he gives something of similar value back to you.
You know, if his friends really are coming to rescue him tomorrow, then he would have no problem for you to keep his own purse. Get his passport, ID card, anything that would make the scammer’s day really difficult.
Of course, if anyone is asking for just an emergency help, then you shouldn’t be giving out money that’s worthing more than a passport. That way, if he takes away your money, he’s going to get himself more trouble by losing his ID card/passport.
Do it for him, don’t give him money
But what if he says he’s been robbed or his purse has been stolen? If he really doesn’t have anything valualbe, and you really feel like helping others, then just help him without giving him money.
He needs to go somewhere else to meet his friends? Grab a taxi, pre-pay the taxi driver and send him out. He needs to eat? Buy him the cheapest bread from around and give him that. He needs to make a phone call? Grab several coins and actually dial the number for him in a phone booth.
When all else fails, look for the cops
If all else doens’t work, and you still want to help this buddy. Do not take out your wallet! The moment you take it out, you’ve lost. He might snatch it from you. His friend might snatch it from behind. Heck, a mob of people may pop out of nowhere. When they don’t know where you put your wallet, you’re still safe. But when you take it out exposed before this suspicious guy that cannot give you any deposit and is asking for a bizarre favor that you cannot do for him on the spot, you’ve just basically expressed your intention to give him freebies.
If he’s really in need of help, call the local police. The cops would be more than willing to help him. This one works particularly well because if the guy sees you talking to police and are still looking relatively calm, he might really be that urban legendary helpless poor man on the street.
Trust is not a protection
You see, all of the above “strategies” do not center around identifying the guy. Rather, I would find ways to protect myself in the case he frauds. That particular scammer that got my money was pretty well-prepared. You know, I tried to be cautious by asking all the particular details: “What is your job?” “Where are you from?” “What exactly will you do next?” He answered all of those with vivid details. Then again, perhaps what I asked was a little bit too shallow. He might have been asked the same questions a hundred times in a day.
The point is, if your opponent is a professional con artist, then chances are he will out-speak you and be able to convince you. Heck, that’s what they do for a living!