May 01, 2006

Hey ... Psssst. Want Some of My Money?

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s being caught off my guard. I’m fairly certain most folks would agree that getting taken for a ride, being made a fool of, getting scammed … no matter what you call it, it’s just no fun.

About three summers ago, my daughter and I were traveling along I-95 coming back from a trip to Staten Island. We both needed to use the facilities, so I pulled into the parking lot of one of the ten thousand McDonald’s/Mobil stations along the highway. We took care of business and while walking back to the car, were approached by a rather frantic looking female.

She spoke quickly but clearly, telling me how embarrassed she was to ask this, but that her car had broken down hours earlier, and that her infant was without formula. She said she waited in the car for a trooper to come by (the car was on the highway) but instead, a kindly tow truck driver stopped and offered to take her and the baby to this rest area so they could at least get milk and use the bathroom. He was willing to tow her car back home, but she was just twenty dollars short of his fee.

“So where’s your car?” I asked without even thinking about all the rest of the crap she just told me. “It’s still on the highway about two miles south of here,” she said. “Oh … well where are you from? Sounds like Boston,” I said, smiling now (not because I especially love Boston, but because I could relate to being far from home, late at night). “Yeah, I knew I shouldn’t have attempted this trip,” she replied, “I’m from just south of Boston … and I’m just frantic to get my baby back home safely in her crib.”

I scanned the area and I could see a tow truck parked about seven or eight cars up from my own. The flashers were off, and I could have sworn I saw a car seat in the cab of the truck. I had no real reason to doubt this woman. She was clean-cut looking, hair neatly braided … she looked weary, but alert. Her clothes were simple and clean and she had money scrunched in her hand. And … my heart went out to her. A young woman (about early 30s) alone and broken down on a highway in a strange town with her baby in the car – at night? Who wouldn’t feel a little badly for her?

I hesitated … then reached into my purse and fumbled around for the last of my cash – which was about eighteen bucks. Good lord, I even asked my daughter if she had any money at all with her … luckily, she did not. Somehow I would have felt even more foolish had I involved my kid in this idiocy.

When I gave her the money, I said “Here, it’s eighteen … I’m sure someone will give you a couple more bucks … good luck.” She took the money and thanked me profusely and then took it up a notch by asking for my address so she could mail the money back to me. I told her not to worry, that it would come back to me someday* in another way, I’m sure. She was persistent though … and ready for this? I GAVE IT TO HER. (great, now she knows where I fucking live)

Oh, but wait … there’s more. You see, when I do something foolish, I don’t mess around. I have to jump in with both feet and scrape the bottom of the pond looking for broken glass!

As if it hadn’t been enough that I forked over the last of my cash to a complete stranger, I got back in my car, opened my purse and rummaged for more; I felt THAT badly for this chick.

I came up with a fresh, crisp twenty dollar bill that was neatly tucked into a zippered section of my purse ~ my emergency loot! I got out of my car … ran up toward the tow truck and as she turned and looked at me (kind of startled, I might add), I proudly waved the bill at her and said, “Here, I just found more money!” She took it, told me how kind I was … God Bless-ed me … and away I went.

I have been made a fool of at other times in my life, for certain, but this took the cake as far as over-thirty, where’s-my-street-smarts, you-oughta-know-better, total retard-jerkass-idiocy is concerned. I hate to mince words in such a way, but it’s true.

So how did I come to know I had been scammed? Because two days later, while watching the local news on television, they reported a “widely-used scam” that was being run at the region’s highway rest stops. Several people … not people like me but the smart kind, had called this into police over the past three or four days. They were suspicious of this woman and the tow truck with NO LETTERING on the side of the truck and simply walked away to report it. Like I should have. But didn’t. Because I’m a sap.

So I’m writing to tell anyone who might gain from this … the old “Don’t judge a book by its cover” thing doesn’t always mean things could be better than they first appear. It also means things could be totally worse.

*I found a hundred dollar bill that following Christmas Eve under the left quarter panel of my truck. I scanned the parking lot of the pharmacy and when no one was around looking like they lost it, I kissed it up to heaven and ran like hell with it. I figure I had it coming to me.

"You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm" Colette (French novelist)


Blogger Don said...

I can understand why you feel so badly about being scammed like this, but I have a particular way of looking at this kind of thing. While it would certainly be an asset to have a sixth-sense operating as a scam-identifier, the fact is, with the real clever ones, it's impossible to tell. This leaves us with two options: we can close off our hearts and never, under any circumstances, exercise our generosity; or, we realise the importance of this interpersonal-calisthenic, and occasionally, give full expression to it - It's good to be good, and so it's good to be generous - this is irreducible and cannot be boiled down to whether or not the recipient is genuine. You did the right thing given the information available to you, and chances are, next time, the recipient will be genuine. Personally, I would feel just as uncomfortable in the company of mean-spirited, wouldn't spare the drippings off their noses, assholes as I would after being duped by a con-man. I would try to avoid both. So congratulations, you don't belong in either category, instead, you've demonstrated your decency.

Still, that woman was a fucking scumbag, don't you think? It must really rankle.

10:30 AM  
Blogger madcapmum said...

There's always another line. I haven't run into that one yet myself. Yup, you earned that $100!

10:52 AM  
Blogger Alisa said...

You know, even if I know I'm being scammed I still give them a few bucks. I always think to myself, "what if this is really God (or Karma) in disguise testing my empathy?"

I read way too much Chicken Soup for the Soul!

So even though you know you've been "had", it sounds like what went around came around ten fold for you!

1:10 PM  
Blogger anumita said...

It would be sad that for people like this, you would be a different person. Dont worry for every person that is dishonest, there are 10 who will overwhelm you with their honesty :) Am catching up after ages and savouring all your posts.

2:02 PM  
Blogger NYCbeauty said...

I was on a first date with a guy who was trying to impress me (I was in grad school for social work at the time) and a guy in the cafe parking lot pulled the same scam on him. He opened his wallet and gave all of his money to this guy. Later he said he knew it was a scam but had to give the guy a "A" for creativity. I laughed and said, "Nah, you were just trying to impress me." We are still friends 15 years later. But I think he might have been the one that got away.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

I fell prey to a baby scam years ago. I didn't lose any of my own money, but I did commit a crime in the process of helping. A young woman stopped me in my apartment complex, said she needed money for rent and formula, that I looked like her husband, and asked if I would stand in line at the Western Union while she filled out the paperwork to receive money being wired to him (she had the correct information and password, just needed a guy to stand there). After filling out the paperwork, the guy asked me to sign. I forged a signature since I didn't want to admit I had been lying, especially since we were in a supermarket with a driver's license station (complete with state trooper) nearby. After I signed and she took the money, we returned to my apartment complex. She jumped out of the truck, ran to a waiting cab and shouted "I got it!" waving the money in the air. The two promptly left without a baby or paying rent.

3:18 PM  
Blogger 40spoet said...

sometimes you just never know when you are being scammed or if it is genuine. if we never took a chance to help someone out, what would we be ? like animals. you were a kind person who got ripped off, but there are so many folks out there who really need our help. congratulations on being a good samaritan.

5:03 PM  
Blogger kenju said...

You are a good person, Carol, and that is why you got almost instant Karma paying you back in spades!

9:00 PM  
Blogger Rob Seifert said...

Chuckle, I always err on the side of compassion. I could care less if I'm getting scammed. My only rule is that I refuse to give money to anyone if I cannot afford to give it as a gift. So there you have it, good for you I say!


P.S. Looking forward to Boston!

10:15 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

I loathe being suckered into situations like this too. I have to echo what everyone has said, especially Don & Alisa. We could shut our hearts down and swear never to help those who appear in distress OR we can open our hearts and give, knowing in the back of our minds we may be scammed. I prefer the latter becuase if it were my kid out there and she was in distress, i'd want someone to help her.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous kathy said...

Yeah that stinks. But I agree with some of the other comments, ie; you got ripped off because you "felt for another" and knew how you'd feel in you were in her shoes. That's not a bad thing. Trouble is - we need to discern, which is easier said than done.
It's good that you can spread the word so creatively - it'll help others from making similar mistakes.
Good story. I liked the ending too.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Attila The Mom said...

I really do believe in Karma. Or whatever any belief calls it (You reap what you sow).

You did a very nice thing for someone in good faith, simply because you're that kind of person.

Wish that there were more like you around.

Not dupes, I mean. ;-) But people who are willing to "Pay it Forward". I think it Karmically counts even if you were duped. LOL

2:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was once scammed big time by a boyfriend. In retrospect I was the fool. I don't know how I didn't see this, but, he supposedly was in recovery from drugs for over a year. When we would go out, he had a lot of people stopping by our table, bench, etc giving him money. "Oh, I lent him $20 last week" he'd say. I thought him a generous person for loaning so many people money lol. Now I know he was dealing.

It's hard for us NYers to admit being taken.

6:38 AM  
Blogger Dave Morris said...

This story is a sad testament to the human condition - but you certainly did the right thing. I wouldn't expect anything less from you.

Although this could be a chapter in a book called "Week-Old Clabbered Poridge for the Soul." I'm thinking about writing it, I have enough stories.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Dave Morris said...

PS - Now we have handicapped word verification? I'm going to try it out... which is the only purpose for this post-script.

8:36 AM  
Blogger PBS said...

Well, you were generous while she was a con artist. So who's better off there, and a nicer, more decent person?!

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Simply Coll said...

It seems kind of sad when the jerks of this world (and I know there are many) make us question our good intentions. Bless your kind heart for wanting to help this girl. Personally I still believe the old saying, "What goes around, comes around".

9:56 AM  
Anonymous hellbunny said...

Don't feel bad.I'd of done the same thing.Its difficult to tell who is in genuine need of help and who is trying to scam you for your money.

11:40 AM  
Blogger t. durden said...

Hello Cerebral, just had to drop and say hello. I know it has been forever. Couldn't help but read your last past and be a bit upset. I guess that since it happened in Staten Island and being a NYer I'm not surprised. NYC does that to the best of us. I've seen many people come up to me with a variety of (reused, cliched)problems (baby formula, just got released from jail, HIV positive, check cashing closed, etc) and I dug deep only to find that my charity went toward malt liquor or cigarettes. I've practically developed somewhat of sixth sense when dealing with these folks. Can't say its accurate. I just get leary of folks that suddenly, out of the blue, become overly friendly and complimentary with me. I guess it is because I live in a crappy neighborhood, where the only time folks are "nice" to you is when they want to follow things up "yo, check this out ma brotha ..." As much as it hurts there are time when I have to blunt and say "no". And there are those time when the evidence is too overwhelming to do otherwise. Don't feel foolish Weary, what you did was from the kindness of your heart as one human being to another. It was a noble gesture. Sadly, it was squandered by some vile creature. I'm sure all of her scheming did very little for her. You were the better person, love. Just be more careful next time.

1:02 PM  
Blogger J said...

I'd be upset if that happened to me, more at myself than anything... I'm always getting upset at myself for things that I "should have known," which sounds silly now that I write it out.

10:14 PM  
Blogger the Monk said...

I think something like this ahs happened to my parents as well...and yeah, they were royally pissed...and they didn't find a hundred dollar bill anywhere, either...another great post...I'm pretty much fine now, thanks for the wishes...I'll get back to posting in a week or so...

1:39 AM  
Blogger brooksba said...

It's a life lesson, but at least it wasn't a huge loss. I can understand how the feeling of being taken is harder than what you gave her.

But I look at it this way: You were kind (albeit scammed) and your thoughts were for the better. It makes me think that you're a pretty darn good person. The world needs more people like you (caring, kind) and less of people like her.

5:15 AM  
Blogger CarpeDM said...

I agree with everyone else, you did this out of the kindness of your heart and that makes you a great person. The thing is, you never can tell in this sort of situation. I think you make the right decision because what if she was the one person that really needed help and not a scam artist?

At least you didn't fall for the emails from the supposed bank officers from Nigeria with their recently deceased customer with no family and hey, won't you commit some fraud with them and give out your bank account number? That one just screams scam to me and yet they make money off of it. Sigh.

1:32 PM  
Blogger MYSTIC said...

Let's forget about being scammed. I want to talk about the hundred bucks I lost in the parking lot on Christmas Eve a couple years ago. I'm sure some sweet person found it and just is dying to give it back to me....I need to get milk for the grandkids, that's it! I need to get milk for the kids..God is good...Protects us all the time.

5:42 PM  
Blogger oregoncelticlady said...

Always good to use common sense but then how many times do we help when it is truly needed! I think it either balances out or karma can do some ass biting for me! No worries! Hey, I posted!!!

7:16 PM  
Blogger Juliabohemian said...

Once I was grocery shopping late at night and was approached by a lady asking for money. She said her car had broken down and was out of gas etc. They wanted to know where the nearest auto parts store was. I NEVER give these guys money. But, I did this time. Then I realized I could go home and get my gas can and fill it up for them. I came back in 5 minutes and they were nowhere in sight. I don't understand that type of thing at all. My rule is I give people maybe 3 dollars max. That way, even if they are full of it, I am only out 3 bucks. I make donations to an actual organization.

2:23 AM  
Blogger NWJR said...

That's a great story.

9:20 AM  
Blogger katie said...

I always just give them a bit of cash too, just in case. There used to be a lady on the street where I work whose car magically broke down every day. I don't give her money.

12:18 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

We all have our moments (dumb ones :))...You were totally sweet to run back with that 20!!!!

11:10 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

she is probably doing five to ten in a state pen now. did I tell you my baby needs new shoes? I am writing a similar post for my blog.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Swathi said...

a very very common phenomenon in India and hence even the genuinely in need ppl miss out on any of the sympathy (but ya, i must add that my dad is a sucker for any of this stuff n he doesnt learn at all so much so he has got duped more than once..)

2:43 AM  
Anonymous colleen said...

Where was the so called baby!?

The woman has a little instant karma coming her way.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Tabor said...

I, too, have been scammed when I was younger. Now I am a cynical old bitch and it takes quite a bit to get me to open the purse. I am willing to by them a hamburger at MacDonald's but no longer willing to just hand out cash.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Violet said...

I would have done the same thing, except for the fact that I never have any cash on me anyway... I wonder if she took debit cards?

10:26 AM  
Blogger Floridacracker said...

I'm with Tabor. No more cash. If you're hungry I'll bring you a meal deal from the nearest fast food joint, but you're not smoking or drinking on my coin.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Spinning Girl said...

I don't think your willingness to suspend distrust to help out a woman in needd makes you stupid. I think it makes you compassionate. Too bad some people take advantage. The people who are really in truoble can rarely get past people's defenses to actually get some help!

Read This post at Julia's to feel better. You may have to highlight it to read; her new template puts black text on a black background sometimes. But you'll be glad you did.

Thanks for being that way.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Spinning Girl said...

"needd" is how we say "dire straits" in Estonian. In case you thought that was a typo back there.

6:49 AM  
Blogger sidcruise said...

Your incident reminds of the story where the duped (In this case YOU) ask the person who dupes her to not to tell the story to everyone as they ll stop helping the needy at the times they really need it..its funny how we miss the people who needs our help...
it happens all the time ...Strange world..
But you do look like a unsuspecting and a kind person so easy prey

1:05 PM  
Blogger Lightning Bug's Butt said...

What you did wasn't foolish. It was generous. I wish more people were like you: inclined to help instead of suspicion.

That lady was a twat.

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Carol.. there is always the hope when you help someone, that they ARE genuine.. many years back, when my friend Jeff and I were cruising around Australia on our motorbikes, I was working in an underground hard rock nickel mine, and one of the workmates asked if he could borrow $50 from me, as he had payments due, and we were a few days short of payday. I could spare it, so I loaned it to him. Two days later, Jeff and I decided to resume travelling, and we shifted some 1800 miles east,from Western Australia, to New South Wales,where we went fruit picking for a couple of months. When we resumed travelling at the end of the fruit season, we decided to travel to Tasmania for another two months, then as winter was approaching, we decided to head for the sunshine of Queensland, some 1200 miles north. On arrival at the Gold Coast, we stopped at a hamburger shop for a meal, and were eating on the sidewalk, when some IDIOT double parked with a 4x4 and trailer home right in the middle of the main highway!... the driver leapt from the vehicle, and ran across 4 lanes of traffic, thrust a $50 in my hand, and said "Thanks mate!", and bolted back to his vehicle. Sure enough, it was the guy I had loaned the cash to some six months, and 4000 miles of travels earlier, ... never saw him again...Damn, didnt even get to thank him for his honesty... Kevin, the cool blue one...

6:59 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

One of my lessons has been "detach from the outcome" - so if I am compelled to give, I follow that instinct and then detach from what follows. There are times when I don't get that "push" and I follow that as well.

We never see the full picture or know the final outcome. You gave with an open heart and that is a wonderful gift. I believe it comes back in some way but even if it doesn't, to give with an open heart because you were moved to do so is a wonderous quality to have especially in this day and age.


9:55 AM  
Blogger Johnny Virgil said...

Happened to me too. At an ATM machine. I had a feeling I was being taken, and I said to the guy "Well, I know you're probably screwing me, it my good deed for the day." They were arrested a couple days later.

7:28 PM  

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