Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I could've ended up a mark

As I read some of the con games listed in this post on Metafilter, I started reading about the Jamaican Switch. But it began to dawn on me that this sounded eerily familiar to something that happened to me about 2 years ago.

As I was walking east on 86th, I got intercepted between 1st and 2nd Ave. by a very distressed looking man with a suitcase. He stopped me and holding out a note he asked me how he could get to this place with what sounded like an African accent. The note had the name and address of a church scribbled on it.

The man then told me that he had just gotten off a cab from the airport and was charged $300 for the ride. However, he was confused because it did seem like a lot but he wasn't sure. One thing he was sure of was that he was lost and needed to get to this church. He pulled out a large wad of cash and told me he'd pay me for my troubles to help get him there.

I said, "Whoa, whoa, don't flash that much money around." After making him put the money away I told him his best bet was probably to speak with a police officer who would not only be better able to help him out with the finding a church business but also with the cab driver who had most definitely ripped him off.

While this conversation was going on another man, middle-aged and in a shirt and dress pants like he'd just gotten of from work, walked past us, lingered and after listening in a little chimed in that he most definitely had been ripped off.

This second man looked at me and said, "We should probably help him get to where he's going."

At this the first guy excitedly agreed and said he'd pay for the cab ride and even a little extra for our help. Guy number 2 added. "He really needs some help."

Did I get suckered in by all this? No. But not because I believed I was being conned. I had a small suspicion that I could have been being conned and one of the worst case scenarios running through my head was also maybe I was being kidnapped and didn't know it, but those were more remote possibilities. In fact, I actually felt bad about leaving the guy out there on his own. But the truth of the matter was I honestly did not feel like I was in the capacity to help the guy.

For one thing, the address I saw made no sense to me and it wasn't even nearby. While I've been in New York on and off before, I'm only familiar with the areas I usually haunt, so part of me felt like I could not help this guy find this place. And since I wasn't familiar with this address myself, I definitely would not be an effective cabby con shield for this guy (who takes the cab anyway? Not me, that's for sure).

More importantly he HAD been ripped off. So it was probably more important for him to actually speak to someone in authority, like a police officer, who'd definitely be able to help him out. (Though he tried to say he didn't want to talk to cops because "Police, in my country, they are very bad men.")

Finally, I was just not comfortable around drama surrounding that much money. Not just the amount lost but the wad this guy had and the promise he had more. I don't trust large sums of money, I don't trust people with large sums of money, and I definitely don't trust people who are stupid with large sums of money. I didn't want payment from him for his troubles especially since if he was involved with some sort of church as his note states, I don't want to take someone's church money. For all I know, his village sold 12 fatted calves and I would not feel comfortable taking more money from a guy who had supposedly been ripped off. Also, only trouble follows around money like that. While I only had a small suspicion this all wasn't legit, I also was more suspicious of the circumstances that would bring a guy to another country with a large amount of cash strapped on to himself.

Anyhow, in the end I told him honestly his best bet was to just find a police officer and ask for help. And since there was another guy (most probably his partner) I felt that if I didn't want to help at least there was this sympathetic guy right here.

So in the end my low self-esteem, oddly conspiracy theorist-like aversion to large amounts of cash and fear from watching way too many gangster and international intrigue movies and the cynical belief that there is no such thing as inherent good in man saved me from possibly being conned.


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