Saying no to a desperate plea for help can feel terribly cold-hearted, but most desperate pleas that strangers lay at your feet are — I hate to say it — nothing but scams.
One particularly popular scam is easy to profile. It comes in slight variations and powerful stories of falsehood that can even catch me off guard, even though I’ve seen lots of them since I fell prey to one several years ago.
What keeps them going is the unending supply of people who think they’re doing God’s will or good will by helping the scammers out.
Here’s the formula the scammer follows.
1. Approach an individual or two who are out of earshot of everyone else. If they say no, which they probably will, nobody hears it.
2. Have an open, age-old flip phone in your hand. Or have no phone. Or have one with a worn-down battery.
3. Explain that you are stranded. Everybody hates being stranded. Say that your car broke down, a rim broke or your gas tank’s empty.
4. Be prepared to add a reason for why you can’t buy your own gas or fix your own wheel. You don’t have any money at all, or you can’t find your ATM card, or your purse or wallet was stolen. Or open your wallet and show that you do have several dollars to put toward your miserable predicament.
5. Point to a nice vehicle across a busy street that is supposedly yours. That’s your vehicle. If you could only get it moving, you could return to your family or to work, making money instead of begging for it, which is reducing you to a pitiful indigent when you prefer to get back to your respectable, well-paying job.
6. An endangered child is essential. Describe how your lonely, humiliating situation is hurting one or more of your children. Have their names on the tip of your tongue, in case — and only in case — your victim asks for them. Mariana is only five months old and needs baby milk. Or you have to get to the pharmacy 25 miles away to pick up the prescription that will keep her fever from blowing up the thermometer.
7. Be a victim. Not only are you feeling terrible about a stupid mechanical failure that keeps you from meeting your parental responsibilities, but a taxi driver ripped you off and took your last cent, or AAA wants extra money that was never mentioned in your membership. What’s more, some heartless tightwad just told you where to go, even used the word “hell.”
8. Take the money you just earned (this is work, after all), and practically fall to pieces. Look down or up and say a “Thank you, Jesus” or “God bless you” to cover most of the diversity bases.
9. Walk to your vehicle across the busy street. Stand by it until your victim has walked out of sight, or disappear into a nearby building.
10. Rinse and repeat. If you are willing to perfect your sales pitch and work the public, individual by individual, you will most likely make a lot of money.
That’s the scam profile. It’s easy to spot, once you come to your senses and realize that meandering strangers with tales of woe are counting on you to forget that they could easily contact local authorities, agencies or friends for help if they truly needed it.
We encourage scammers to scam when we open our hearts to their schemes. Tell them to contact the police, or answer with a firm, respectful no, and they will move on down the road. They aren’t looking for help anyway. They just want your 10 or 20 bucks.
Max T. Russell writes for the international business intelligence community. You can contact him via his website, maxtrussell.com.