how to help the poor and protect yourself from street scams

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:

Get deposit

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!

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