The Con Artist

This could be a piece of fiction. But it isn’t. This really happened to me and I was reminded of it due to my recent post about hoaxes. And I promised the wonderful Diana Wallace Peach that I’d re-post it in full (rather than as a link).

In early 2014 I took my eldest daughter down to London for an audition to a drama school and while she was busy a-singing and a-dancing and stuff I went for a mooch up the North End Road from Fulham Broadway towards West Kensington. It was there that I met The Con Artist.

Now I wobble along a social line that wants to see the best in everyone but I can still be fairly cynical. At the time I was also working for Nottinghamshire Police, so I was used to seeing all kinds of scam activity that the detritus of humanity throws at the rest of us. However, whilst paused to check my phone, I was approached by…

… a middle-aged woman.

 

Rule Number One – Looks Can Be Deceivingcon pic

Don’t expect The Con Artist to look like some kind of spiv, a Flash Harry, a wide-boy. This woman was probably in her fifties and had a kind of scruffy middle-class air about her. You know, probably a nice upbringing but it’s all gone a bit sad and pear-shaped. It was January so she was wearing a big coat, hat and scarf along with several rings that could have been family heirlooms but were probably cheap costume jewellery. And she was probably only about 5’6″ or so. Not at all threatening to a six foot bloke who’s maybe ten years her junior.

 

Rule Number Two – Listen To Their First Words!

Her first words to me, literally before “hello” or “excuse me”, were: “I’m not a beggar”. It had not occurred to me that she would have been, but my Spidey-sense should have been tingling a bit more than it was. Beggars are pretty up front about taking money off you whereas she threw in a fair amount of guff before getting down to scamming. So after covertly stating an intention to relieve me of some money by means other than begging, she then asked if I was “from around here”. I assumed that this was because she was lost, but no. This was because she wanted a wide-eyed innocent. I was ideal fodder, down from the Midlands for one day. She then attempted to ingratiate herself with me by complaining about not seeing anyone else ‘English’, which pretty much fell flat on its face as I don’t generally bond over casual racism. She regained her thread and, deciding that I was a possible mark, began her sorry tale.

 

Rule Number HandHoldingKeysThree – Look Out For Convenient ‘Justifying’ Props

Her car had run out of fuel and she had attempted to buy some petrol from a garage ‘down the road’ but they wouldn’t let her fill her lemonade bottle with an explosive flammable liquid. At this point I nodded, knowing about this law. She produced the lemonade bottle as prop number 1, but the most significant items were the keys she was clutching in her right hand. “Of course she’s telling the truth,” you think, “she’s got a whole load of keys in her hand and some of them are definitely car keys.” Yes, but if you think about it, if you have car problems you shove your keys back in your pocket or bag, not wander the streets with them permanently gripped in your hand like some kind of consumerist talisman. She had them purely to make me think about the car and give credence to her story.

 

Rule Number Four – Do They Want Help Or Money?money grab

She wanted some money to buy a fuel-can so that she could fill up her car. Again, she gestured down the road on her right (back towards Fulham). I then bowled a bouncer at her by stating that I was at a loose end for at least an hour, I could walk back to the car with her, sort her out with fuel and everyone’s happy. She didn’t like that. She said that it was a long way and the garage was in a different direction. And so on.

 

Rule Numnokiaber Five – Beware The Phone-y Reassurance

She said she could repay anything she borrowed off me by sending money via PayPal. And she was very keen to exchange mobile phone numbers, so that I would have her details and then be in a position to trust her. This didn’t really make much sense to me, because all I would have would be a random phone number, most likely a cheap pay-as-you go SIM. Her phone was an ancient Nokia which suited her because it went with the slightly decrepit image (and also because it was practically worthless and easily replaced if lost, compromised or confiscated by the cops). Also, at this point, why not suggest they phone a friend? No doubt they would have no credit or some other sob-story.

 

Rule Number Six – Watch Out For Rapid Inflation

I had my suspicions about her story all the way through, but as I’ve mentioned, I want to see the good in people. It could be that she was telling the truth. How would I feel if my wife was marooned with no money? So I looked at how much money I had spare. She said that a petrol-can cost five or six pounds. I only had a spare tenner. Suddenly the petrol-can was actually nearer seven or eight. (For the record, a five litre can costs £5.99 from Halfords). So in the end, wanting to believe her and being at heart a nice bloke (mug) I gave her the tenner. At which point, the rather superfluous final rule kicked in and pretty much confirmed that she was a Con Artist.

 

Rule Number Seven – Watch Where They Go

All through the conversation the implied car was on her right (south) but as soon as she had the money she turned left (north) and headed towards the local Sainsburys. I popped into a nearby internet cafe to print something out for my daughter and meandered slowly back towards Fulham, pondering the likely con. While doing so, I saw The Con Artist heading south on the other side of the road. With some Sainsburys shopping. The cheeky cow.

I followed her discretely for a while but I lost her when she turned into the estate on Gibbs Green Close, next to West Kensington Mansions. The “Petrol Scam”, as it is known, features as one of the fairly well-known cons in this article, but most instances tend to occur at motorway services and the scammer is a dodgy-looking bloke, not in London suburbs by an apparently slightly shabby and inept posh auntie.

I thought about contacting the Met Police but realistically they can’t do much about it. She asked for a small amount of money and I gave her it on trust. Very much in that grey area between fraud and civil debt. On the other hand, if she was a serial offender then perhaps my experience would be of interest to them so that they could get some kind of ASBO/Injunction on her. But probably not. I took too long mulling it over and then decided perhaps the best course would be to explain what had happened on a blog, so that others could hopefully spot the warning signs of an impending con. Especially those accosted by a middle-aged cow in West Kensington.

mug

 

Notes: originally posted on another blog which I’ve slightly abandoned; I can’t for the life of me remember where I got the images from. If anyone owns copyright over these, let me know and I’ll remove them.
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10 thoughts on “The Con Artist

  1. I knew what this post was when it popped up on my reader. 🙂 I can’t believe you were working for the police at the time.Too funny. Should have innocently flashed the badge while looking in your wallet and giving her a dire tale about the last scam artist sent to the slammer. In my younger days, I would routinely run out of gas so I can relate to her predicament… the difference is I always accepted help.
    By the way, you tell a good story – very entertaining 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, of all bloody careers to be in when I’m confronted with a con artist!
      If she hadn’t been a harmless old biddy I’m sure I would have been more sceptical. I can’t resist a damsel in distress!
      Gosh, having you say that I tell a good story has made my weekend 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. And yet on the other hand….. How desperate might she have been? She went shopping with your tenner….. For food. She didn’t just go on to the next person and repeat the con, she perhaps wasn’t counting wads of cash at the end of her working day. We don’t know what her situation was and hats off to you for trusting her and doing what you thought was the right thing. You kept true to you. Well done. You should be feeling nothing other than proud.

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    1. I get where you’re coming from, but I didn’t get the feeling she was living on the poverty line. Shabby but not destitute. And maybe we could cut her some slack for not immediately moving on to her next victim, but the slick professionalism of it all gives me the impression she just tries it on whenever she thinks she’s in with a chance (exhibit A: trusting bloke down from the Midlands). I think she was on the way to the supermarket anyway (it was 50 yards from us) and thought I was a reasonable punt for a few extra quid.
      I’d have been quite happy to have helped out with her weekly shopping if she was genuinely short of cash. It’s the practiced deception that annoyed me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. An interesting encounter.
    It takes some nerve and possibly desperation to pull it off, so fair play to her in a way. Least you only lost a tenner.

    Reminds me of when I went to london about 8 years ago. I was walking on my tod in Islington, heading to The Emirates stadium, when two bald Russian guys came up to me outside the back of a supermarket on a quiet street, trying to sell me a ring. I quickly moved on but they followed me for several streets, parallel to me, a few streets down the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah, she was certainly a slick operator. Nine for technical merit and a good 7.5 for artistic interpretation. She’s still a cow though…
      We’ve been burgled twice, the first time by a bunch of amateurs (failed to get in through the front door, cut themselves going through the back door window, dropped a cheap tacky male bracelet while on scene, gathered stuff and were then disturbed before taking it all). There was broken glass everywhere and took ages to clean up.
      The second time it was by a professional and I had to admit their style – access via a vulnerable window with minimal glass breakage, tidy search & then away via front door with TV, VCR & hifi. Of the 2, this was the least hassle and they would be my burglar of choice in the future…
      😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Not exactly. I worked for Nottinghamshire Police for 12 years as police staff, not a law enforcement officer. I was an intelligence analyst (worked on a few homicides, amongst other things) and then a performance & resource manager for the control room.

      Like

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