Few decent people would turn down a request from someone in distress. Scammers know this, and they use it to their advantage. So if someone knocks on your door or shows up at your office with a hard luck story, the intention is almost certainly to walk away with some of your money. If someone truly needs help, generally he or she doesn’t go door-to-door looking for it. I mean, would you?
Fake sob stories often revolve around being stranded without transportation and communication. One man operating for years tells a story about a broken down car and needing to get to the hospital for a sick daughter. If you could just spare $40 for cab fare, it would really help him out. Sometimes he varies his story by saying that he needs to get to the funeral parlor to collect his dead son’s body.
In a scam that targeted both residences and businesses in Massachusetts, a woman claiming to be new to the neighborhood tells people she locked her keys, phone and wallet inside her house. She asks to use the phone and makes sure she is overheard saying that she needs to get back to work, but doesn’t have enough gas to make it there. If that’s not enough, she mentions that her husband is deployed overseas in the military. Feeling bad, victims offer her gas money, which she promises to pay back. They never see her again.
People who use this approach are invariably reported as being friendly, polite, apologetic even. They don’t mean to put you out and hate to ask, but they’re really in a jam. They’re good actors and can cry on demand if they need to. Don’t buy it.
It may sound cold-hearted, but it doesn’t mean that you have to abandon your Good Samaritan instincts completely. If you feel there’s a possibility the person is in real trouble or needs help urgently, offer to call the police. No con artist wants to involve the police, so if they refuse or start to waffle, it’s time to say good-bye.