Today’s Momday Motivations is about the fine line between legitimate need and a scam.
I was reminded of just how very thin this line is when I last visited my son in Montreal.
He suggested a potluck affair for our final annual Thanksgiving dinner with his college pals. The apartment I was renting for the weekend was teensy but fortunately it had a huge patio and the gang simply hefted the dining table outside.
On the day of the party I arranged to meet my son at 3:00pm for our traditional stroll up Mount Royal, the hill (or mountain depending on your perspective) that overlooks Montreal.
This is the view from the top. You can see where I arranged to meet him!
The Fine Line Between Legitimate Need And A Scam
My eyes were drawn to the woman in a purple coat. Her purse was dangling from her neck and she was wearily leaning on a pair of elbow crutches, smack in the middle of the throng of students, shoppers, tourists, dogs and strollers. My heart went out to her. In her mid-50’s, she was severely disabled, her feet were misshapen, and her legs were obviously unable to bear her weight. She lit up when she caught me looking.
“Can you please help? I’m trying to sit over there.”She waved at a small cement bench six feet away and gripped my left arm.
We sat. After learning that I was a tourist, she explained that she was a PhD student and that her ride had been inexplicably cancelled. It was a prepaid service, she had no money and no way of getting home.
Could I help?
I floundered about for solutions. Perhaps a friend could come get her? No, no one was available. Perhaps a regular bus? No, her home was off the bus route.
As the minutes ticked away, she flattered me, assuring me that no Montrealer would be as thoughtful. That was surprising. My interactions with them had been different. Most kindly helped me with my french, happily pointed out the way to the Metro, and cheerfully directed me to the nearest wine shop.
“Do you have any change?”
I’d some toonies in my pocket but they were for treats after the hike.
“Well, how about a credit card? Surely, Madame, has one of those!”
As I shook my head, she suddenly hissed and leaned in uncomfortably close. One look at her intimidating glare and it hit me.
“Look, I’m running out of time, I’m sorry. Why don’t you call the police? Surely, they could come to your aid.”
Spittle flew as her face flushed an angry red.
“NO WAY! They won’t help at all. How could you even possibly suggest that?”
“Bon chance, Madame.”
I bowed and took my leave.
By the time I met up with my son, I was severely questioning whether I’d misread the situation and was shocked at his incredulous smile.
“MOM! They sent us a warning about her just last week. She’s the campus scammer who hits up mostly female students for money! You didn’t give her any, I hope …”
Rewinding: The Fine Line Between Legitimate Need and A Scam
“Mom! You didn’t give him any money did you?”
Francine turned a disappointed face towards me. “How can you be so cold, Kelly? This gentleman may lose his pregnant wife and all you can think about is the money? I would have hoped that I’d raised someone with a soul …”
The fellow in question leered at me with open delight. And swayed on his feet. I’d smelled the stale cigarettes and booze on him from the second I’d walked into the shop.
“They were in the store last week to look at that vase in the window. Last night they were in a car accident and she’s clinging to life. He has no money. I want you to go down to the bank with him, withdraw the funds and then drop him off downtown. He’ll pay us back tomorrow.”
Three weeks later there was a warning on the radio about a fellow scamming several Vancouver shops with this very tale. I was relieved that I’d managed to talk Francine down $200.00 from the requested …
A Friend For Life
“Please. I just need $100.00 to tide me over to the end of the month. It’s a silly mix up with the tax department and I’ll never bother you again.”
The elderly woman returned to the store the very next day with the $100.00 plus interest and two lottery tickets. Mine wasn’t a winner but Francine’s was. Big time. They split the winnings and this stranger would become a special guest at my wedding.
Yes, I still find it difficult to discern the fine line between legitimate need and a scam. When you get it right, it’s reassuring. But when you don’t …
Enough about the fine line between legitimate need and a scam. I’m curious about you. Have you ever been scammed? Can you guess how much our shop scanner got? Better yet, can you see the huge likeness of Leonard Cohen on one of the buildings in my Montreal pic? If you’d care to share, I’d love to hear.