I'm Not Sure I Call This Honesty: The Boston Street Con Edition

Last evening, I was walking back to my apartment, and I was stopped by a young woman on crutches who said, "I don't mean to bother you, but do you have a moment? I'm trying to get a train from Back Bay Station."

Even if I hadn't recognized her, anyone who lives in Boston knows what comes next. "I need twelve dollars to get a train ticket. Anything you can give would help. I injured my foot three days ago, and I even showed the guy at the counter my hospital papers, but I still need twelve dollars." At which point, I responded, "I live right around the corner, and I've seen you working the Copley Station for the last four months, so..."

She pauses for a second, and responds:

"Well, why'd you stop and not just keep walking by?"

I don't think honesty is the appropriate word. Maybe candor?

Never a dull moment in the naked, limping city.


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Her target is tourists & other folks "not from around here". You are a local, she is t(emporarily) a local. Therefore you're both on the same side so why you picking a fight with the neighbors?

By Matthew Platte (not verified) on 03 Apr 2011 #permalink

1, i too am curious why you stopped.

2. the sucky economy - brought to you by a handful of rich sociopaths and their sycophants - has made a lot of us into entrepreneurs.

3. her brand of entrepreneurship may be - ok, is - annoying, but people do like to have their little luxuries - food, clothing, shelter, medical care, ...

She was on Newbury Street last night around dinnertime and I called her out for having seen her around Copley several times while continuing on my way. But may I say, for someone who has a "broken foot", she moves pretty fast on crutches!!

I was taken in once by this sort of scam shortly after moving to London. Eating in a restaurant near Charing Cross BR (as was then) station. Nice, personable bloke comes in, heads over to my table (I think he spotted me through the window) and goes into a great act as a person who lost(?) his wallet and needed some money to buy a BR ticket to get home. Promises to repay, etc, etc. Very apologetic, and convincing as someone who is highly embarrassed to be approaching strangers and asking for money.

I fall for it and give him some money (not a lot, 5 or 10 pounds, as I recall, plus my business card). I didn't think anything of it until, perhaps half an hour later, shortly after leaving the restaurant, I notice the same guy standing around (probably looking for other victims). He notices me and hightails it, with a sufficient lead (and probably familiarity with the area) there's no point in chasing.

I would have just called the police to put her scamming, pandering ass in jail (probably only for an hour, unfortunately).

By NewEnglandBob (not verified) on 03 Apr 2011 #permalink

That reminds me of that older lady who used to hang out around the CVS on Comm Ave near Harvard Ave in Allston. She'd have a little handwritten list of items, like plastic bags, tin foil, etc, and approach people who were walking in. "Excuse me, I just got out of the hospital and I can't afford such-and-such, is there any way you might be able to buy one of these for me?" It definitely caught you off guard because she never asked for money, just the stuff on the list (which was probably her grocery list for the week), but she kept using the "just got out of the hospital" bit for months.

Sympathy for poverty suddenly hits a brick wall on this blog pretty quickly.

Don't know if panhandling meters are still used. It was a west coast idea. Meters were set up in high-activity panhandling areas. If you wanted to give to homeless, etc. you put coins in the meter. Then you knew that your money would go to meals, shelter, etc. instead of a drug habit, etc.

By OldMayfly (not verified) on 03 Apr 2011 #permalink

I lived 10 years in Harvard Square and worked in a homeless shelter for a while as well. Once I was taken in by a nicely dressed African American gentleman of middle age; I gave him a few dollars after hearing a well told story down near Adams house. When he repeated the story up near the Law School a few months later, I cornered him briefly and asked for a refund. Didn't see him again.

It's nice to be the dominator rather than the dominated, isn't it?

By @murmur55 (not verified) on 04 Apr 2011 #permalink

There was a well-dressed fellow standing on a street near the longwood T stop. I was on my bike, and he flagged me down asking for $5 for a fix-a-flat. His son was in the car, he gave me his phone number and would totally pay me back. Since I was on my bike, I offered to go get the thing for him... while he was trying to convince me to just give him cash (I didn't have any on me), another guy rode by and told me he'd been taken in by this guy a few months before.

@ Fred (#7) - It's hard when people lie to take advantage of your sympathy, even if they are in a truly desperate place. I'm sure most people reading this blog would be happy to give up plenty of extra money out of their paycheck to help the needy, and I was ready to give this guy cash to help him out. Finding out it's a scam makes it that much harder to help someone out the next time.

Two NYC panhandling stories.

Scene one, Penn Station: On my way to catch the train I was approached by a guy claiming to be a student who needed train fare back to Boston. The train I was catching continued on to Boston, and I told him to join me, and I would buy his ticket from the conductor on the train. He said he needed to get his bag first. I said I would wait for him on the train. When it left the station 15 min. later, he was not on it. (Needless to say, perhaps.)

Scene two, Grand Central Station: As I was standing in line to buy a ticket for later in the day, I was approached by a guy asking for lunch money. I took him to lunch. Afterwards he embraced me with tears in his eyes. :)

You sound like my Dad. He'll gladly listen to a professional sob story on his way around Boston if it means that he saved someone else the chance of a swindle.

By ABradford (not verified) on 04 Apr 2011 #permalink

"Because while you were wasting your time trying to hit me up for money, those other people walking by were being left alone. I'm a frakkin' local hero!"

@Kevin, I get it. Unfortunately articulate, well groomed people don't elicit the sympathy that the dirt-on-their-faces Tiny Tim esque beggars do.

They should starve I guess.

Fred @ 15:

@Kevin, I get it.

No. You don't.

No one has been discussing people who are honestly hurting. The discussion has been solely about scam artists.

You are attempting a "I am more compassionate than thou" pose, for reasons that likely have to do less with actual compassion and more with your personal neuroses. But all you are doing is demonstrating that you are a threadjacking shmuck.

I'm sure there are millions to be made in these scams. What other motivation could these people have to engage in this behavior other than poverty?

Fred @ 17:

I'm sure there are millions to be made in these scams. What other motivation could these people have to engage in this behavior other than poverty?

Ah, I see. The old desperately-poor-or-Bernie-Madoff dichotomy. Whatever could I have been thinking?

For those of us out here in the real world, there are small-time crooks who are not living purely hand to mouth. Read the comments again, with an eye towards comprehension rather than imposing your personal interpretation on them.

Again, evidence of scamming. No evidence of destitution.

What's the success rate, how many people can be targeted in an hour? Are these people making a living wage with their scam? On a good day they clear what?

I suppose we've finally found the welfare queens everyone was so indignant about. I bet these people barely manage to feed themselves.

"What's the success rate, how many people can be targeted in an hour? Are these people making a living wage with their scam? On a good day they clear what?"

I was stuck in Cambridge traffic one day, with a clear half-mile view of an intersection where about four guys were panhandling w/ hard luck stories on the various corners. It took me about an hour to get through the intersection due to a lane closure. I had the opportunity to perform this calculation. Success rate was about 1 car/2 minutes/person, and were always given bills, not coins. Let us assume that since this was rush hour, which in Boston lasts from 7am - 9:45 am, this was the maximum payout and between 9:45 - 2:45 pm, traffic dropped to some fraction thereof. Rush hour picks up again 2:45 - 6:30. (2.75 + 3.75) * (30 takers/hour) = $195 per day, even if they were only getting ones and only getting takers during rush hour--which they weren't, they worked lunch rushes as well. They work even in inclement weather, in case you were curious. It has to be a real blizzard for the Rte 2 intersection to be deserted.

In the same city, security guards and service workers are paid less than that, and have to pay taxes out of it too.

I had actually forgotten about this thread...

Fred @ 19:

I bet these people barely manage to feed themselves.

And that summarizes Fred's attitude. Despite no evidence of poverty presented and plenty of evidence of con artist behavior presented, he insists that his personal, unevidenced belief is in fact reality.

Let's face it Fred, you are as bad at this thinking and evidence-based argument thing as any right-wing creationist or left-wing anti-vaccine loon is.

Get. A. Clue.

$195/day, 365 days/year - that's an annual income of ~$73,000. not bad for a professional storyteller!

of course, being self-employed, you have to buy your own insurance, avg medical expenses for a family of 4 are estimated at what? $16,000/yr? there's no paid sick leave, vacations, holidays, snow days, parental leave for the self-employed, so you lose income on those days you can't/don't want to work. and liar's loans notwithstanding, you'd probably have a trouble getting a loan to buy a house or a car....

but never fear! the forward-thinking state of florida will save you from all the evil panhandlers!


By hipparchia (not verified) on 13 Apr 2011 #permalink