A well dressed man approaches me on Queens Gate, and asks if I know where the nearest petrol stations are. He says he’s already been to the one at the bottom of Queens Gate, but he needs to find an independent station. As I’m considering which is closer – the one at the other end of High Street Ken, or the one that Dan Climas went to in minibuses which is down towards Chelsea – he starts talking himself into a hole. He’s run out of petrol, he’s just up from Kent for the evening with his wife, he forgot his jacket so he doesn’t have his wallet, Shell will only give you free petrol if you have your driving license (huh?), but of course it’s in his wallet which he doesn’t have. Finally, the short con comes to its conclusion – whilst waving a bunch of car keys and a mobile phone, he offers to give me his details. He didn’t get to ask for cash before I walked off.
He’s probably unlucky that this happened to me a few months ago in a quiet part of East Putney – a guy shouted across the road to me, and started waving keys and talking about petrol. It’s a bit hard, since if the story was legit, the only option you would have is to approach strangers and rely on their generosity. But in both cases, it’s word for word exactly how a short con would play out, so I walked away both that time, and last night.
Most times when I get approached by people looking for change to get the tube home, I say no (although my plan for next time is to offer to top up their few coins if they are actually willing to put them into a ticket machine!).
I think I’ve fallen for a short con once when I was drunk and walking home through Chelsea many years ago – a well dressed drunk guy on a Friday night had lost his wallet and asked for directions to Victoria Mainline, and needed some cash. He seemed perfectly legitimate, but again, it would happen exactly the same way if he had been a con artist, so he probably was. Nowadays I’m much more sceptical – I’ll hear people out, up until they ask for cash. If they can come up with some way of me helping that doesn’t involve them getting cash – say, asking me to buy the petrol and put it in their car, or asking me to buy them a ticket, they would be slightly more likely to get my help.