The man had tears in his eyes and the woman looked sad. It was late evening and they begged me to give them some money to buy a train ticket to Bihar. They rightly guessed that I spoke Hindi and spoke to me in the same language to emphasise their alien-ness to this city. At that time, vulnerable and tired, I half fell for it. Still deciding not to give money, I took them over to a biryani place nearby and got them some biryani packed for dinner.
As I bought the biryani, I was pretty sure the Rs 150 I was spending on them was scammed off me, but the polite me didn’t know how to say ‘no’. The reason I knew it was a scam was because I vaguely remembered the same thing happening in Delhi, when I used to live there more than a decade ago. Also the cashier in that biryani restaurant looked like he’d seen that guy before. There was a flicker of recognition in his eyes. Anyway, I paid and left, feeling cheated and hoping that I would see them again so I could confront them.
The same scam was repeated before me, TWICE at the Trinity Circle today. There were two families I saw: in each case, a couple with a child, usually 3-7 years of age trailing behind. One of the families was standing a bit off the other and the other had already stopped a lady who gave out Rs 100 to the couple in front of me and my friend. We didn’t stop her at that moment.
Later in the evening, when I was walking out of my gym, a couple, this time on a scooter, stopped me, asking for directions to Mekhri Circle. I told them. Then they said they wanted to go to the airport. I gave more directions. By then, they’d told me they were from Maharashtra (though my first sentence to them was in Kannada and they understood it too) and had come here visiting. They’d been fined for riding a scooter without a helmet on and were now out of money to fill petrol in their scooter and go to their sister’s place who lived on Airport Road.
“I’m not a beggar, miss,” the guy said in Indian English, “but if you could help.” I was surprised as these two appeared more middle class than the others I’d seen and observed. The woman wore a prim cotton sari, her hair neatly tied up. And they were on a scooter! But yes, it was a scam too. “I’m sorry sir, but I won’t give money,” I answered politely before walking away. The woman even smiled as if to say she understood.
Now all of this could be a big coincidence, but since this has happened to me thrice in a few weeks, I get the feeling that it’s a rampant scam across Bangalore right now. Here’s how it goes:
1) Couple approaches you asking if you speak Hindi. Usually they see you’re an ‘outsider’ to Bangalore
2) They first ask you directions to get you to talk to them
3) Then they start telling you their story and say they’re migrants
4) Fourth phase is when they tell you the ‘we’ve-been-cheated-and-are-out-of-money’ tale
5) It’s been five minutes and you just want to get away.
6) They insist they are not beggars, only in trouble and they’ve tried to ask others for help but have been refused. They mumble something about being cheated or fined and being embarrassingly out of money. This is the high-level sympathy card.
By this time, you’re probably hooked. As a good Samaritan you want to help out or maybe you feel pity for them. You won’t give out Rs 10 as you usually would to a beggar. You would give no less than Rs 100, for how will a family travel back to their village, eat dinner and stay the night somewhere on a meagre Rs 10?
It’s a lucrative begging idea, playing off people’s sympathies and works almost every time. I’m sure it’s not even a family, just a bunch of people together made to look like a family. A new kind of a begging scam.
What to do if you’re being scammed and are too polite to say no?
Say you won’t give money. If you’re too polite for that, insist that you would like to take a photograph of them and share it as a warning for others who might be considering coming over. Hopefully, the minute you take out your phone to take a picture, the family will scoot.
Never give money. Maybe food.
If others have faced this, please do add into this blog with your experiences. It will warn others away from getting scammed.