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I have been the victim of an orchestrated and refined scam at least twice. (By "refined" I mean "more elaborate than a guy who doesn't really need bus fare hitting me up for a dollar".) I may have been bilked on other occasions but, if so, I am blissfully unaware of it.

The two:

Short Change: I got nailed by a quick-change artist when I was 17 and working as a cashier of a restaurant. A guy comes in and asks me to make change a $20 bill. As soon as I took the bill he began talking a mile a minute about nothing in particular, and after he received his change (a ten, a five and five ones) he suddenly pulled a wad of money out of his coat pocket and said "Shit, I didn't need change after all, I have all these ones in my coat." So he shows me "ten" ones and says, "Here, just give me a $10 bill for these." I give him a $10 bill, he hands me the ones, I count them and find only nine. "I only gave you nine? Well, here," the guy says and hands me another $1 bill. Then he says "Fuck, this is a nightmare. Take back this $10 bill too and just give me back my original twenty bucks." I do so, and he leaves while I stand there thinking "waaaaaaaait a minute ...." I had to write all the transactions onto a piece of paper to figure out that I had lost $10.

Wallet Drop: I was walking down a sidewalk in Bolivia when I see the guy about 20 meters ahead of me pull his wallet out of his back pocket. He does something with it (walking all the time), and then goes to shove it back into his pocket -- except it doesn't go it right and falls to the sidewalk. Instinct compelled me to take a few steps forward with the intent of picking it up, but then I remember that a million South American scams start with the classic "dropped wallet maneuver,' so I pull up short and glace around. Sure enough, the shifty-looking Other Guy is standing right there beside me. "Hey," Other Guy says lamely, "You, uh, oughtta return that." I immediately knew something was up, so I said "you return it," and hightailed it out of there. I suspect the plan was for Other Guy to pick my pocket while I stooped, but I'll (thankfully) never know for sure.

Posted on July 17, 2002 to