Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Scammed!

The community is facing the embarrassment of having been taken for a ride by a scam artist. It happened on Monday, right at closing time. A man came in, saying he worked right across the street at...and he named a local business...whose name is featured in a second story window. Long story short, he had no way of getting to his car, which was parked at Armitage and Cicero (that's almost halfway to O'Hare from here), and would it be at all possible for someone to give him a ride, even though it would take about two hours in rush hour traffic? From that outrageous proposition, he suggested that if we had a bus pass to loan him, he would return it the next day and repay the amount spent. But when we produced a bus pass, suddenly it became very urgent that he be at O'Hare by 9:00 and how was he ever going to do it and couldn't we please in some way help him? In the end, he got away with a bus pass and taxi money. (Naturally, he hasn't been back.)
Unfortunately, it is hard to just send someone away with a "Good-bye and good luck" when you are wearing a religious habit and working in a religious setting. The sister who walked into the trap (literally) was pressured on several sides: the unexpected "need"; the late hour (right before closing); and the genuine desire to  be of service--to someone who clearly was not going to leave the premises unless his pleas were addressed. From hindsight, it is easy to see the man's maneuver for what it was. By starting out asking an over-the-top favor, he worked his way down to getting just what he really came for: a bit of cash in hand (cash we really can't afford to spare); Sister was basically paying the guy to leave.
What galls me even more is that every time I find myself rehashing this in chapel, I remember that I ought to be praying for the dude.
Got any suggestions for dealing with the next scam artist who walks in the door?

11 comments:

Ruth Ann said...

It is hard to advise because each scam is a bit different. Maybe ask for 2 pieces of ID and jot down the address, phone number, etc. If not willing to give that info then say no.

Anonymous said...

I think my comment was lost, so I will resend it.
tell the man that there are hidden cameras throughout the book center and for him to be sure to smile as he exits

Anonymous said...

Sister - I'm a fan of "straight talk" - as in saying to such a scammer something like "I don't really believe your story. Just tell me what you need and we'll give you whatever help we can."

Sean McGaughey said...

I recall a story about Catherine Doherty at Friendship House in the 1930s. At their clothing depot, she had given a particularly nice sweater to a homeless lady. Someone who was assisting her remarked, "Don't give her that. She will just sell it to buy booze and she'll be back with her hand out tomorrow." Catherine is said to have replied, "Then we better get in more sweaters".

We do need to protect ourselves from being taken advantage of, but in responding to the genuine call to serve the poor, we may encounter this.

Shana said...

Scamming nuns, how bad is that?!

Anonymous said...

We all have experience those hard lessons of being taking advantage of. Of course you were just trying to be a good person trying to help him. Don't beat yourself up because you didn't see him as a scam artist. The shame is on him.

Lisa said...

I think there comes a point in an encounter such as the one you describe where one isn't really scammed because one recognizes the lie but one sometimes feels motivated to "reward" the innovation and creativity evidenced in the story.

It happened to me recently at the Trenton Transit Center. A well dressed man came up to me and told me a really convincing out of the oridnary story -- I was almost inclined to believe him. I didn't really have any money to share but there was a moment at which I considered whether I should make smoe available in case he wasn't lying...

Long story short, fortunately no one was hurt. And I believe in the end, the change SIster spared will come back you to 10x.

I would suggest considering the closing operations, however, to ensure that it is always safe and doesn't become a target for this kind of shakedown approach...

Ultimately, you are right -- scam artist or not, God still dwells in him and for whatever reason -- including his own dignity -- he couldn't tell the truth of why he needed the money. You are right -- before the Tabernacle is the best place to offer him up to God, but I think your distriction is legitimate when you also consider the vulnerability of the whole encuonter...

Sr Anne said...

Lovely insight, Lisa, that "he couldn't tell the truth of why he needed the money." That makes all the difference in the world in terms of my attitude.

Anonymous said...

The encounter in your book center at closing time calls to mind the admonition of Jesus to withhold not your tunic also. Sister got off cheap.

Lisa said...

I am glad that my reflections were somewhat beneficial. They come from personal experience. I try to essentialize the nature of gender, but I do believe that men in particular have an increased vulnerability when it comes to telling the truth about why they are not self sufficient or why they cannot provide for their families so resorting to creative license becomes the way out. Of course, there are those who do it to be deceptive but the majority I believe are doing it as a weak attempt at preserving the remainder of their dignity.

Lisa said...

Sorry, I hit post before finishing ...

In the situation you described, I believe there comes a point in the encounter in which both parties are recognizing the truth and one through (her) kindness says, "I am going to let you have your dignity" and the other appearing to have won his way says (internally), "Thank you for letting me keep my dignity even when I know that you know I was lying."