Scammed For Sympathy On The Street

It was a horrible story. A man approached Liza on the street and said that he needed $6 because his mother had just had a stroke behind the wheel of a car and he was short on cash to pay for the tow truck while she was taken to the hospital. It was also a lie.

Liza’s story is posted on the New York Times City Room blog:

“Excuse me,” he said, turning around.

“Yes?”

“I — I just moved to the neighborhood,” he said, naming an address on Underhill. “Do you know if there’s a tow truck place around here?”

I opened my mouth to direct him to Bergen Street, which is lined with car repair places, about to say, “They would know.” Before I could get the thought out, he spoke again.

“My mother had a stroke behind the wheel. An ambulance took her. I’m trying to get a tow truck. All I need is $6.”

Six dollars. The words “mother” and “stroke” were all I had to hear to get me reaching for my wallet. As I opened it, I thought of how here I was, alone on a dark stretch of block, with a man who could easily pull out a knife and tell me to give him all my money, my phone, even my dog. I didn’t have $6. I had a twenty. I gave it to him.

“I’ll pay you back,” he said.

“Don’t worry about it.”

The woman turned back after walking away and noticed that the man was leisurely strolling down the boulevard, looking not at all like someone who was in an emergency. Online, she found stories of a person matching the description of the man she gave money to. They took place in the same neighborhood and he had been telling the same story for years. One of the sightings said that they same him eating oysters and drinking martinis at a nice local restaurant. That post was from six years ago.

We all want to do good in this world but it’s important to not be taken advantage of. A sob-story with a pitch for cash on the street is probably fake. If you want to give your money to the less fortunate, charitynavigator.org is a good site to evaluate which charities are worth it.

Complaint Box | The Sympathy Sham [cityroom.blogs.nytimes]