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The Unlucky Traveler

A clean cut person wearing nice clothes approaches you and unfolds his tale of woe.  Often the person has luggage or carry on bags that will add to his credibility.

   You'll hear something like "I was robbed and must get to the airport.  Can you drive me there or give me money for a cab."  or "I'm from out of town and mistakenly thought the subway could get me to (name of distant location).  I need to be there in a hurry, can you take me or lend me cab fare?

Helping Out The Smart Way

1. If it is cold or dark outside, walk with the person to a location that is warm and safe such as a nearby store or restaurant.  Do not bring the person into your house or car unless you feel exceptionally lucky.  Remember, your sincerity is no protection against being robbed or carjacked.

2. Don't be rushed into making quick decisions.  Con artist will rattle off distracting information and make rapid suggestions  to keep you busy.  Ask the person to quiet down and let you think.  Distractions are used to keep you from seeing the holes in their stories.  Don't be afraid to take a ten minute break and assess the situation.  If the stranger is for real, he'll understand you’re just trying to help him.  Call a friend for advice on how you can help this person without giving out money or endangering your safety.

3.  Ask the person to show some picture identification.  If he’s for real he'll understand your concerns and won't be angry.  Anyone who doesn't have picture identification is most likely conning you.  The most common excuses for not having such include "I was robbed." "I have a new wallet...", or  "I left my wallet somewhere else."   

4.  Get the person to give you the phone numbers of at least two other people who know him.   Write down these numbers and call them in front of him (call collect for long distance). Honest people have friends who will understand your reasons for calling collect and they will be glad to vouch for him. But con artists will make excuses or give you the wrong numbers.  They know such information could be given to the police and used to track them down.

    If a live person picks up the phone, explain the situation and ask if this guy can be trusted.  Even if they know the name, he could very well be an impostor.  Have them describe his race, height and hair color to see if he is who he says he is.  If you're dealing with an answering machine, make sure you hear the name he said would be there.

5.  At this point, if you're not sure if he's sincere, call the police for guidance.  Let the other person know what you intend to do and watch his reaction.  If he takes off, describe him to the police so he’ll never have a chance to do this to others.  Provide the police with details about his race, height, hair and eye color, identifying marks (if any) and what he was wearing.

6. If you don't want to involve the police, consider calling a cab and paying for his trip by credit card.  If this person is scamming you, then all you’ve done is given him a free ride to a place he doesn't want to go!  Phone the cab company yourself and ask if they accept credit cards.  Make the person you're assisting step away so he won’t hear you giving out your credit card number.

Any cash payments should be handed directly to the driver with the understanding that no money should be given back to the passenger under any circumstances.  Make sure to get the cab's medallion number and license plate.  If possible, give the driver your name and number as well.  The driver may be needed later to identify this person.

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The Man Who Needs Gas 

But the most common line of all is the infamous "I ran out of gas.  Can you spare a few dollars so I can get back to my wife and family."

How To Help The Smart Way

These scams prey upon people's honest desire to help those truly in need.  If you think the person might be sincere, here's what you can do: 

1. Ask to see the car. If he's lying he'll tell you it's two or three miles down the road. If he points to one nearby have him open the doors.

2. Still not sure? Then get him some gas. If he's for real he'll be grateful. If he's not, he'll be stuck with something useless.   Ask the gas station or nearby store for a "gas can" or any container approved for gas and fill it up.  Note: filling up a milk jug or non approved container is in most states against the law.

3. Walk the person to a nearby police station.  The police are always there to help people in such cases. If he's conning you he'll be gone before you get there.

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ATM Scams-The Trusting Foreigner

A stranger with a thick foreign accent approaches you and asks you to hold his money and store it in a safe place.  Briefly, he flashes a bag of bills which then vanish into his jacket.  To gain your sympathy, he'll tell you he's been robbed or victimized.

Suddenly another "passer by" sees what's happening and warns the stranger of the perils of carrying that much cash out in the open.  Then, a story is told to get you to a cash machine or so you can put your money in the bag with the stranger's.  All the while, the stranger and his accomplice weave an atmosphere of tension and anxiety.  They may even argue with one another to keep you off balance.

These people are con artists for sure.  They will either rob you once you get to the cash machine, or take your money some other way.  Politely remove yourself to a safe spot and call the police.  Do not let them know what you are doing or they will run away.   

    If you feel bad about calling the police, ask yourself the following:  

"If this stranger is so paranoid that he won't trust the police, why in the world does he trust me?" 

"What could I possibly do for him that the police could not do?" 

"Are this stranger's actions appropriate given the  circumstances?   If I were in a foreign country, would I act this way? " 

 Call the police if you cannot resolve each and every one of these issues.

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Scams and Cons