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Scam, Scheme or Person in Need? You Tell Me

I was waiting for my train at Farragut North the night before last, bathed in that familiar after-work fatigue, when a fellow approached me. "Excuse me," he said. "Do you have a twenty for two tens? I'm a cab driver."

Now, my first reaction to something like this is to mumble, "Um, no, sorry"--even though I knew I had a twenty in there, I've been taught not to pull out my wallet in public--and that's pretty much what I did. But I wanted to deconstruct this and get your opinion: Was he trying to scam me? Consider:

Item: Why would someone need a twenty for two tens? Doesn't it usually work the other way around? Don't you typically want to break a larger bill for smaller bills?

Item: He was holding some money up to me when he said this, but all I could see was a $5 bill, not a $10.

Item: Why the odd detail "I'm a cab driver"? Was this to explain his need for folding money

of a certain denomination? Was "cab driver" meant to elicit some sympathy or solidarity? (Why not "I'm a pediatric surgeon" or "I'm a certified C++ programmer"?)

And if he was trying to scam me, what exactly was the scam? I can see the scam if he'd said, "Do you have two twenties for a ten?"

This guy obviously wasn't Robert Redford in "The Sting." Or was he? What do you think:

Part of me wishes I'd gone along with his request, just to see where it had led. Has anyone else had something like this happen to them? What happened? Maybe we can use this blog as a clearinghouse for penny ante confidence games (if that's what this was).

In Other News...
Local blogster Princess Sparkle Pony rounds up the delicious coverage of Sarah Palin's pricey wardrobe. One of my favorite local bloggers, Silver Spring, Singular, has had a fascinating thread going about zombies in Silver Spring. Why Silver Spring? Well, that's where he blogs. Why zombies? Well, duh. This post and discussion on where to hide when the zombies come is probably more useful than all those brochures and PSAs Homeland Security did on sheltering in place. And it's a good thing to read before taking part in the Silver Spring Zombie Walk, a zombiefied bar crawl that ends at a showing of "Night of the Living Dead" at the AFI Silver Theatre on Nov. 1.

Speaking of the undead, a Georgia company, Eternal Reefs Inc., will pack your cremated remains into the stuff it sends to the bottom of the Chesapeake to create artificial reefs, "a service it markets as an environmentally friendly and less-expensive alternative to traditional burials." I wonder if they hire directly from the Mafia. Talk about sleeping with the fishes.

Wx Pix
"Wx" is the abbreviation cool people--well, I--use for "weather." Weather is bigger than it ever was. By that I don't mean the stuff outside our windows--that's pretty much the same size as it's always been--as the stuff on our TV and computer screens. We seem to be obsessed with things meteorological. Our own weather bloggers, the Capital Weather Gang, are a hit. And now they're sponsoring a photo contest. They're looking for creative snapshots of the sky. Here's mine, snapped not 10 minutes ago:


Not very creative, I guess. I'm sure you can do better. And don't forget our contest, "What Does It Mean to Be a Washingtonian?" Answer that question in 300 words or less and you could be $100 richer. All right now, back to work, you.

By John Kelly  |  October 23, 2008; 7:54 AM ET
 | Tags: Metro, blogs, contest, polls  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Driven to Extremes: Lane Etiquette
Next: Friday Grab Bag: Getting Behind Obama and McCain


John, I was thinking it was you that had a whole discussion about this a year or two ago, but maybe it was Marc Fisher - this is well known, tired old scam that's been going on around here for some time.

Posted by: MacGruber | October 23, 2008 9:14 AM | Report abuse

When I lived on Capitol Hill, a gentlemen knocked on my door and, with tears in his eyes, asked if I would consider giving money to help pay for the funeral for the daughter of a neighbor who I did not know. I normally don't comply with these requests, but something about the man touched me and I handed over a few bucks. Three months later, the same man knocked on my door with the same "funeral" pitch, apparently unaware that he hit me up once before. You would think that he'd have kept a better set of donor records.

Posted by: f-street | October 23, 2008 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I'm pretty sure had you ponied up your dough, you would have found yourself with two counterfeit ten dollar bills.

Posted by: BrendanWest | October 23, 2008 9:53 AM | Report abuse

John, this is an old scam. I forget how it goes exactly, but you're supposed to notice something wrong so they can say, "Oops, sorry, give me xxx back and I'll give you the yyy." They do it quick and before you know it you are short ten bucks. This happened to a friend of mine once at a gas station. You know something is funny at first because people usually ask to break a larger bill into smaller ones, not the other way around.

Posted by: smmd2007 | October 23, 2008 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Some years ago people would ask me if I could change a twenty-dollar bill. I subsequently learned that at that time the twenty was fairly easy to counterfeit. In response the U.S. Mint came out with the Andrew Jackson version, which is apparently much more difficult to duplicate.

Posted by: cktirumalai | October 23, 2008 10:39 AM | Report abuse

You're response should have been, "Hey cabby, can I get a receipt?"

My guess is that it had scam written all over it.

Posted by: McLeanVA | October 23, 2008 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like a scam to me. I've worked in that part of town and 1) where would he leave the cab and not risk a ticket/boot/tow during rush hour (assuming you left the office at a "normal" time, and 2) why would you enter a pay area of a Metro Station looking for "change" when you could look on the street and save to fare...

Posted by: TC14 | October 23, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

You should have looked closely at the ten spot to see if it had Hamilton's picture on it or Mickeys.

Posted by: sherrimiller | October 23, 2008 2:38 PM | Report abuse

I would have engaged him in a discussion about "zone versus meter." If he were a real cabby, this would have shown quickly. You were being scammed, my friend. So, you said you took your wallet out...what happened next?

Posted by: mfromalexva | October 23, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Was he Ethiopian or Somalian? If not, he wasn't a real DC cabdriver.

Posted by: philmphile | October 24, 2008 11:58 AM | Report abuse

I'm taking a break from whizzing on gravestones, as repeatedly recommended by Post Magazine columnist Gene Weingarten, to tell you about another recent scam. The guy says he's living in a shelter, it's always a mile away although he'll offer to walk you there to verify his story, and he's either trying to raise money for the shelter (he may have a McDonald's flyer to hand you because they're one of the shelter's sponsors) or he needs money to pay for an ID at the DMV so he can get a job he was promised at Aramark, the mega-food-service company. Often he will say he's HIV positive. There was one tall guy near 14th and K who told me he used to play ball for AU, and had the High Five since 1991. I didn't think to ask him what medications he was taking and how he got them, seeing as he was still alive and living in a shelter.

Posted by: IpeeOnGravestones | October 25, 2008 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Mr. OnGravestones,

I met that man, or at least an admirer of his work.

I was near the National Portrait Gallery when a largish gentleman told me he was unemployed, had AIDs, needed five dollars to get into a shelter, and would walk me to the shelter if I wanted to go (I didn't, particularly). There was more to his particular story -- cuckolding, bodybuilding, a blind soothsayer -- but the gist was the same. My question: How do you know it was a scam? Is every panhandler a grifter?

(By the way, I did give him the five dollars. I was just going to buy a milkshake, anyway.)

Posted by: Agoldenretriever | October 28, 2008 8:56 PM | Report abuse

This happened to me last week! Here's what was going to happen: You give him the $20. Then the split second you turn your back, he hides the $20 and starts waving a $1 around. "Sir! You only gave me $1! I gave you two $10s and you only gave me $1!" So everybody on the subway platform thinks you are the cheater. His hope is that you will agree that you made an absent-minded error and give him another $20. If you want to give the benefit of the doubt, you could make sure he agrees that the first $20 is in fact a $20 before you give it to him.

Posted by: mder1 | October 30, 2008 9:58 AM | Report abuse

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