Watch out for scammers

CTA train stations and bus stops are ideal places to panhandle, or better yet, to try and scam people. There are plenty of potential “marks,” and stations and bus stops are big gathering spots.

Some might wonder, “How could you let yourself be a victim?” It really depends on the circumstances, and it may be easier to get taken than you think.

Here’s what happened to Orlando earlier this week:

“I got scammed this morning and while it’s too late to get my money back I’m hoping you can warn others.  

“I was on my way to the California Blue Line stop rolling my suit case as I had a morning flight out of O’Hare.  A guy in a business suit rolling a suit case approached me and was nearly in tears.  He indicated that his car was towed and it had his laptop in there and that he would be fired if he didn’t get it. He asked for money to take a cab to his home in the suburbs get his ID, get his car out of the pound and get his laptop.

“If I had asked questions I’m sure I would have been able to poke holes in his story.  I gave him $80 and my information and he gave me bogus info.  What makes matters worse is that he has my home address and knows I am leaving town, now I have to worry about him robbing my place because they think it’s vacant.  While losing the money hurts  I am still in a position where I can pay my bills.  I fear that his other victims may not.

“I have the feeling this guy is going up and down the Blue Line perpetrating this scam.  He is a white male, slim to medium build around 5’10” in a dark suit rolling a dark suitcase.  While I feel like an idiot I want this story out so that others don’t get scammed.”

Thanks for sharing, Orlando. He did call police, but couldn’t file a report since he technically “lent” the money.

I’ve seen other scammers invoke children in their entreaties: needing diapers, formula or some sort of medication, often for asthma.

So, be sharp, be aware, be careful.


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  • It's always hard to turn down an articulate, reasonable-sounding person who is asking you for help, probably because it's easy to imagine yourself in his shoes. But if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, remember that someone with a suit, a car, and a job that provides (entrusts) him with a laptop should have a revolving line of credit, which - even if the card itself is located at home with his ID (he was driving without his ID?) - taxis in Chicago are legally obligated to accept as payment. If American Express or Visa won't lend to him, you shouldn't either, no matter how good his story.

  • Lycoris's reply is way more polite than I had in mind, which was "Eighty dollars, are you f'ing kidding me?!"

    Here's my rule, which while maybe callous, is simple: Do not give or lend money to people on the street. Ever.

    Especially the lady who occasionally stands at the southwest corner of State and Adams during afternoon rush and asks for change while listening to an iPod.

  • The well dressed scammers are always the best. I remember a couple working across from the U of C main quad asking for bus fare back to the south suburbs. On the other hand, I wouldn't give bus fare to those asking for it at bus stop at the Garfield-Ryan L station.

    However, after rereading the post in light of the above comments, I sure would never "lend" someone $80, and ever expect to get it back. Bus fare is one thing (and note, this scammer wanted cab fare, not five bucks for CTA and Pace), but I doubt that I would even carry that much in my wallet on the L.

    The main thing that bothers me about riding the L is that there is always a moocher by the fare card machine, whom I try to ignore, but I realize that there are also those on the street.

  • You can't trust a stranger on the street in any big city - sorry. If you were in the con's situation, wouldn't you have a few other options before you were forced to start begging strangers for money? Everyone gets tricked at some point - so the best thing you can do is look out for yourself, and not the only guy in Logan Square wearing a business suit.

    And don't be tricked into giving anyone train fare. Although the homeless in Chicago have a lot of difficulties, sneaking through a turnstile past an apathetic CTA employee isn't one of them.

  • This is one of the most popular cons because it's so believable -- until you've heard it a hundred times. It has limitless variations, but all of them usually along the lines of "my car got towed" or "my friends left me". And they're all looking to get back to the suburbs.

    There's one guy downtown who even wears a fake badge and black uniform, claiming to be a security guard. The first time he asked me, I said sorry. The second time, I told him he had tried it on me before and warned him I'd call the police if he did again. He hasn't bothered me since.

    I'm afraid I can't have sympathy for anyone who falls for this scam. Anyone asking for money on the street is a scammer (with the exception of all those Greenpeace, etc, survey takers -- and I'm not giving my credit card number to a stranger on the street anyway).

  • I've heard the "I need to get back to the suburbs" thing often enough I've started telling them I'd love to help, but my wallet had just been stolen. There's no way they can prove it wasn't (beyond mugging me, which I don't think these guys do).

  • Why don't you have the comment section immediately after the posted piece,as you did before?It was so much more convenient and inviting.
    Also since defecting to the dark side of the Tribune,has censorship become your new best friend?Or do you still allow profane,off topic and otherwise taboo postings to grace[or gross out] your blog?

  • In reply to JamesReyes:

    Hey James. Can you please be more specific about your comments beef. The comments DO come right after the post once you either click on Comments or go to the permalink -- just like at the old site. So I'm not sure what you mean.

    As for Tribune censorship, I've been promised there will be none. In fact, Mike figured the "Scary Shit" category would be gone (here), but it's not. That's how this post is categorized.

    I never really liked people to get profane at the old location, but I have allowed it, mainly because I don't want to me an overbearing moderator. Off topic and taboo are OK too, as long as they relate in some way to the CTA.

    Thanks for reading!

  • In reply to KevinO’Neil:

    Awesome Kevin. I'm glad my favorite category survived.

  • In reply to JamesReyes:

    Indeed, just yesterday I got to the word bitch in a thread that also contained reference to the fact that sex acts of any kind are not allowed on CTA vehicles. I don't see a whole lot of censorship. But, hey, let's all censor our impulses when scammers approach us with a seemingly compelling story. Panhandling is panhandling, even if the panhandler is wearing a nice suit and merits an Acadamy Award nomination.

  • In reply to JamesReyes:

    The moral of this story:

    Don't trust anyone from the suburbs.

    Here's a little line I like to use on panhandlers that makes me laugh. They always come up to you and ask, "Can I ask you a question?" I always reply, "Yes, but you just asked it." By the time they figure out what I mean, I'm down the street and sometimes they start swearing at me. But it's always hilarious.

  • In reply to JamesReyes:

    I believe James is referring to the comments link. On the old site, it was located right below the post. Thus, enabling one to click on the link right after reading the post. The current comments link is right below the post title. So, you have to scroll back up after reading the post.

  • This has to be the same guy I encountered one night at like 2am this winter outside of the Sears Tower on Franklin. It was really cold, I was the only one outside, he spotted me all the way from Adams and ran towards me in tears, saying his car got towed and his wallet was in there so he didn't have the proper identification to get his car from where it was impounded. He was dressed nicely in a suit and had a leather laptop bag. He pulled out his notebook to show me all the information he had supposedly written down to get his car back. He wanted $80 dollars to take a cab out to the suburbs so he could get his ID and come back for the car. He offered to let me hold his laptop and told me he could come back with the money in a few hours. He played a very convincing panicked person and looked absolutely crushed when I told him I wasn't giving him anything. Broke my heart.

  • In reply to asdfchicago:

    ...and he's still working in the shadow of Sear's Tower. I encountered him at Franklin and Adams last night around 7:30 pm. Exact same scenario as you describe. He is one slick mo fo. Against my better judgement, I stopped to listen to his sob story. I gave him a Metra 10 ride with two rides left. It obviously wasn't enough and he asked if I could give him money. Said sorry and walked away. No appreciation whatsoever expressed and I suspected I had just been scammed. Came online here to confirm.

  • I ran into a guy the other day but wasn't sure if it was a scam or not. A twenty something guy approached me on my way to the water taxi near the Wrigley buiding and told me he got robbed near Sox park. He had a police report with him showing he was a victim of theft and he said he needed to get to the South Shore line to catch a train to Indianapolis but had no money, told him I had no cash. He was well dressed and showed me a bus pass that he supposedly got from Catholic Charities. Said the Pacific Garden mission couldn't help. I didnt give him anything but it certainly seemed like he was going through a lot of effort it this was a scam. Anyone stumble on this guy?
    I thought it was weird that he was at the Wrigley building if he needed to catch a train at the Millenium Station.

  • In reply to carter:

    If it looks weird, then it probably is weird. Sounds like a scam to me.

  • fb_avatar

    As for the guy who needs to get to Indianapolis by way of the South Shore line---he's back! Operating at the Starbuck's on the corner of Michigan and Adams.

    This is the second time in the last few years that he has given me the exact same story:

    1. he's a student at IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis)
    2. he needs to get to the South Shore Station (keep in mind--he could crawl there from the Starbuck's)
    3. he's been mugged near Sox Park (just as "Carter" mentioned in 2012) AND he has some sort of documentation to prove it.
    4. This time (November 28 2017) he tried to show me his bandaged right calf, where, he had been attacked with a knife. Mind you, it was hard to escape him when I'm sitting right next to him in Starbucks.

    The entire time he talked, I just started vacuously at him, told him "I can't help you" and he eventually got up and walked away.

    The guy:
    Late 20s, Early 30s
    White, light colored hair (hard to tell with his hat on)
    bluest eyes I've seen in a while, no glasses
    one black cyclist's glove on left hand, one black fleece glove on the right hand
    regular zip-up type of gray fall jacket
    very dirty (previously white) tennis shoes
    Ace bandage around right calf
    A hospital ID tag (white) around his right wrist (he claims it is from Rush)
    Carries a map of Chicago downtown area AND a 3-inch by 4-inch (or so) piece of white paper on which he has directions written in a left-handed scrawl (black ink) for getting
    Roosevelt/Michigan [South Shore Station]
    South Bend
    where his mother (or someone) is supposed to help him get to Indianapolis and back to college.

    Keep a look out, everyone!! And by all means, don't let your guard down when you're enjoying your coffee--even (especially) during the holiday season Purses (and altruistic people) make for great targets!! P.S. His blue eyes are uncharacteristically blue--his tell tale sign.

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