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How to Get Scammed Out of $19 at Starbucks

May 31, 2017
Surprised Alien

Wh-wh-what happened?!?

“Do you have a twenty for two tens?”

That’s what he asked me. “He” was a sixty-plus-year-old disabled man with good shoes. You know what I mean about the shoes, especially if you have a face like mine that invites direct panhandling requests or shaggy-dog stories with the same aim. You live in a city. The first thing you do is check out what someone’s shoes look like so you know if they’re likely to ask you for money. Untroubled shoes suggest (but do not guarantee!) that the shoes-wearer will not seek money from me. Or such has been my experience until that point.

Actually, I’d already checked out more than this man’s shoes. He’d been hanging out near the Starbuck pick-up counter. The walker he used was the kind a person could sit on, and it was in good shape – none of the array of bags that often hang off a panhandler’s walker. The man was also quite hunched over and seemed to bend in the wrong places. He wasn’t going to ask me for money. In fact, he was just having a coffee like everyone else in the place.

I felt a little bad about thinking he might be about to ask me for money. I wondered about his difficult life and how he makes it work. I wondered what kind of challenges he faces every day in situations that are simple for me and that I take for granted.

Suffice it to say, he had me hook, line and sinker.

Okay, there were a few minor strangenesses. He did seem to be spending a little too long sorting out his coffee, which is usually a sign of chaos that can extend to innocent bystanders. And after I sat down with my own beverage, I briefly thought I saw him  drinking directly from one of the milk carafes. I generally try not to stare, but that’s a situation that deserves full investigation because I HAD ALREADY USED THE MILK AND BEGUN TO DRINK MY BEVERAGE.

He wasn’t drinking from one of the milk carafes. His to-go mug just looked like a carafe. Thank the Maker. I put my head back into my computer.

“Do you have a twenty for two tens?” he asked me, and he was suddenly nearby.

I immediately thought of two good reasons he might need a twenty for two tens. Plus, I’d already surveyed his situation for panhandling potential, and I’d doubted him about the milk carafe, so I was inclined to be a little more inclusive than five minutes before. But my lizard brain was still trying to determine if I had missed something about the man – I’m not a big fan of reaching for my wallet around strangers.

Benjamin in Vegas

Good thing I didn’t lose this fake beauty.

Then he did the thing that convinced me he wasn’t about to try to scam me: he produced the two tens and set them on my table.

I reached for my wallet and got out a twenty-dollar bill that I handed to him. That actually took a good thirty seconds. I had to find the twenty. My wallet contained mostly ones, which was not a good financial sign! I had a thought about that, but I decided to move on cuz the nice man was waiting for me.

Do you know where this is going? If so, you are smarter than I was!

I handed the man a twenty. I reached for the two tens from the table and put them in my wallet.

The man seemed to be standing nearby still, and he hadn’t said anything even to thank me for the twenty. That was weird. I looked at him. He was holding a one-dollar bill. He sputtered something about how I had given him a one instead of a twenty. I stammered an apology. But my hind brain was having its doubts.

I looked at the one-dollar bill he was holding – it was folded as if it had been in my wallet. I reached for a twenty. There seemed to be only one twenty-dollar bill in my wallet. I was fifty percent sure there had been two twenties before. I handed him the new twenty.

But wait. There HAD been two twenties in my wallet. I was eighty percent sure.

“Did you switch those?” I said to him.

The lie was on his face. I was one hundred percent sure he had switched them.

“I would never do that,” he said and put my new twenty in his wallet.

He had switched them when I picked up the two tens he placed on my table. I narrowed my eyes at him. I pursed my lips. But I remembered my five weeks as a D.C. Grand Juror and how things go when they go bad.

Pez Presidents

Pez Presidents sit in judgment of me.

However, I did NOT remember that a few years ago, the same thing happened on the Metro to Cake Man, who offered to call a cop over to sort out the situation. Cake Man is smarter than me. His scammer high-tailed it. Cake Man, who stopped using cash, has been suggesting for years that I also stop.

Mr. Coffee-and-Con was hanging out at the pickup counter waiting for someone who was using cash. CREEPY! He offered to buy me a beverage after he stole $19 from me. I should have ordered a triple-venti-something-crazy-with-extra-judgment. Instead, I glared a little more. Mr. Scammer-in-the-Nice-Shoes hastily departed the establishment.

My understanding is the swindle only works the first time on the victim because they don’t recognize it. So, now you know. If just one person who reads this post doesn’t get scammed, that’s good enough for me! Also, to Cake Man’s delight, I’ve switched to credit.


10 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah permalink
    January 15, 2020 7:49 pm

    The same thing just happened to me at the Foggy Bottom metro station! I knew that something was off and normally don’t pull out cash for strangers. In fact I even made several excuses because I straight up did not want to pull out my wallet, but he continued to insist I “check my wallet.” I was somewhat isolated at the end of the platform, plus I was sitting down on a bench and he had appeared out of nowhere and was actually blocking me from getting up with his walker or I would’ve walked away. I also happened to be extremely tired at that moment and did not have the mental or physical capacity for an altercation, so I gave in knowing I was probably being scammed. Your description of the man and what happened is exactly the same. Afterwards I was trying to figure out what the scam was (because I knew there had to be one). After looking up how to identify counterfeit money, I concluded that the two $10 bills he had given me seemed real, so I googled “why you would want a 20 for 2 10s” and found this! Mystery solved. I THOUGHT I had two 20s in there. I would perhaps be more amused than anything else if he hadn’t done it in a way that resulted in me giving him the money because I felt trapped at that moment.


    • January 15, 2020 7:55 pm

      I wonder if everyone at the coffee shops is onto him, and now he’s working the metro?!? I would have been creeped out by his aggressiveness if I were in your situation. I’m sorry you lost your money!


  2. jake permalink
    December 16, 2019 3:54 pm

    I saw this same guy yesterday in Union Station! He was an older man walking slowly with a walker and he asked me for a $20 in exchange for two tens. I laughed in his face because I had previously read this.


    • December 16, 2019 4:15 pm

      Congratulations on keeping your $19! That is amazing, and so cool! Thanks for letting me know!


  3. Justin permalink
    September 4, 2019 12:36 pm

    Almost this exact same thing just happened to me, and it sounds like it’s the exact same guy. My story is nearly the same as yours except I was coming out of Merzi just up the street from the Archives and Starbucks (likely the same Starbucks you were at). I was walking down the brick sidewalk when the guy asked me for two tens for a 20. I almost kept walking, but I thought “sure, why not…I think I happen to actually have a 20 in my wallet.” So I hand him the $20, as he precariously layed down 2 $10 bills on the walker infront of him. To ensure his money didn’t blow away, I immediately leaned down to grab his money, and that’s when I assume he switched out the $20 bill for a $1.00. He then says, “hey man, you gave me a $1.00.” It was convincing, because I do happen to have several $1 bills in my wallet, and I am a bit of a scattered brain who has done similiar things many times before, but something about it seemed verys suspicious. I was almost sure that I handed him a $20. But what was I going to do? Shake the man loose for my $20, out in public, when I wasn’t even 100% sure that I actually did hand him a $20? I’m glad I came across your post to confirm that I hadn’t lost my mind…


    • September 4, 2019 4:00 pm

      Ugh. That sucks. Sorry about your $19. And sorry that your being nice about was what the scammer was counting on. I sooooo feel your pain! Next time, we will both know!


  4. Rob permalink
    June 1, 2017 4:39 am

    I don’t give cash to strangers. I’ve been ripped off before, and I live in a neighborhood where begging is common. It’s a gut-wrenching feeling to know people like that are out there, mingled with folks who really could use help.

    If someone wants to trade cash like that, they’re out of luck. If they just want a coffee or some food and it’s within my budget, I’ll do that, but more often than not, beggars ask for money for food, but when I offer to take them shopping for what they want, they decline. If so, they’re out of luck.

    I’ve had to go so far as “dressing down” just to go for a walk in my neighborhood without being bothered by the beggars. If they see someone wearing a rough jacket and walking with a cane (which I do have a legitimate use for), they’re less likely to ask for cash, cigarettes, and so on. Even then, one guy saw me coming out of my building and asked if he could use my shower. I pointed him to the shelter down the street, and he just shook his head.


    • June 1, 2017 9:51 am

      Someone asking to use your shower! I can see why you have to be dedicated to not being scammed. Thanks for letting me know there’s another level, Rob.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. June 1, 2017 4:20 am

    That is SO cheeky. I’d have fallen for it too. Thanks for sharing it here, Andrea – and I hope the glow of a good story will take the edge off the loss of $19.



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