Friday, January 23, 2009

The kid stays in the scam

A child is being enlisted to con a few dollars at a time from restaurant patrons in central Ohio, the Akron Beacon Journal’s Bob Dyer reported in a recent column.

The enlistment of a “sad little girl,” in the words of one witness, may be a twist, but the scam is an old one. Someone central casting might’ve picked to play an affable next-door neighbor approaches people inside the restaurant with a confession. Somehow he left his cash and credit cards home, and now he’s stuck miles away with an empty tank and no way of putting gas in the car. If you’d forward him a few bucks, he could get the kid home and then drop a check in the mail. Could you help him out of an embarrassing pickle?

“Plenty of local restaurants apparently have been donating,” Dyer notes.

He recounts that a local first came across the grifters—a middle-aged man and the girl—at a Red Lobster. Then he saw them at a Mexican restaurant, and later at a mall. Acquaintances, according to Dyer’s source, had seen a slight variation in other restaurants.

There was no explanation as to why the restaurants would allow the con man to work their clientele. Presumably the bite was put on patrons as they waited for a table, or when they entered or exited the place.

The ruse is so common in New York that I don’t even think about it anymore. It’s like fending off the people handing out promotional flyers on the sidewalks. Our practitioners typically position themselves outside a subway station or inside our two main train stations, Penn and Grand Central. In my experience, they usually look as if they’re in their late teens or early 20s, and present themselves as college students. They were heading home, they explained, when they stupidly spent some of their fare money without thinking. Once, it was on a beer at a T.G.I. Friday’s in Penn Station—“I didn’t realize how expensive things are in New York.” Usually, it was to get something to eat.

In any case, couldn’t I help them out with 50 cents, or maybe $1.49? The biggest request I’ve ever heard was $2.

I always politely tell them, “Hey, I know the scam,” or sometimes, “I saw you here yesterday saying the same thing.” It’s amazing to me that they just nod and move on, stepping out of character for a split second before putting the bite on someone else.

You can read about more restaurant scams here and here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just had that happen in a parking lot in small town IL the other day...particularly startling because I didn't notice the guy until he tapped on my window. Yikes. I saw it a lot during my studies in Europe, but never here in central Illinois.

I enjoy your posts--keep it up. I remember your old blog posts about a foodie trip to the Rio Grande Valley and I've been a reader since then. (I heart the Valley!)