Parents often warn their children not to talk to strangers, and yet it’s an impossibility to go about your daily dues without having to converse with a stranger. Be it the kadey uncle, the tuk tuk driver or a random citizen asking for directions, the inevitability of speaking to a stranger at some point is an unavoidable task. But what happens when the stranger exploits your trust and emotional willingness to offer a hand? In nine out of ten instances you will be reluctant to speak with a stranger let alone help them just in case they’re devising a clever ruse to have a grab at your wallet. Differentiating between a con artist’s tale and a genuine story can make a significant difference from preventing a potentially dangerous situation to lending support when necessary.
So how can you tell the difference? Here’s a few stories we’ve compiled from people we know so you can detect the red flags when you see them.
*Names and identities of individuals mentioned have been anonymised in some instances.
Scam Artist Profile: Bluff Businessmen
Location: Pannipitiya and Central Colombo
“I’m an old woman who lives alone and hardly goes out much but one day two young, well dressed sales boys turned up at my door. They were selling air fryers and persuaded me to purchase one after detailing the benefits. I was told that the price was Rs. 40,000 and I thought it’d be alright to have one in the kitchen so I agreed, but I told them I don’t have the cash in hand. They seemed to be understanding and said it wasn’t a problem, they had a car and would take me to the bank to encash the amount.
On my way to the bank I called my niece who was out shopping and told her about the air fryer but she didn’t seem interested in purchasing one. Suddenly she called me back and told me that the supermarket was offering it at half the cost for Rs. 14,000 and there was no way it could be Rs. 40,000. I didn’t know what to do as I had already committed to pay the amount. The two boys wanted to know if I lived alone but the call had alarmed me so I told them my husband would be home soon. I paid them the money and they dropped me back home, after which I called the number they had given on their sales cards. Apparently the company they worked for had shut down some time ago and they had stolen the equipment, selling it at a significantly higher price to make up for their lost jobs.”
“We used to cater from a particular place for official dinners that my dad hosted and there was a manager he would usually contact to get it done. Once, as usual, he called the manager to cater for another event and the manager agreed. But that day my family realised that the food was not at all up to their usual standard and the service was really bad too, with new faces instead of the usual caterers. When my dad finally called to complain to the company, they informed him that the manager had not registered the order under the actual company but had done it privately. He had mastered the whole plan, made a sizeable amount of money and tricked us all in the process.”
Scam Artist Profile: Profit Paralysis and Blind Bargaining
Location: High Level Road and Kirulapone
“I’ve watched a man who frequently gets on the 138 bus from near the High Level grounds on my way to Colombo. He claims to be partially paralysed and asks people for money. Occasionally if the driver hits his brakes, this man would fall on a few people claiming he has no control since his left side is paralysed. One day he stayed in the bus for a few more stops beyond his regular point of departure and the conductor asked him to leave. He got into a fight with the conductor and used both his hands to gesture his anger—at which point everyone realised he was not paralysed. He then cursed the passengers for their lack of social consciousness and left the bus, walking down Thimbirigasyaya perfectly fine. No paralysis in sight.”
“The parents of a friend of mine were driving up their lane when suddenly a man crossed the road and the car appeared to knock him. He wasn’t hurt though but Aunty felt bad and took him to their house to make sure he was okay. He told them a long story about how he was going blind and needed money for the operation. They felt terrible, gave him Rs. 10,000 and then helped him get into a bus. A few months later they were driving down Colombage Mawatha when they saw a lady who had gotten down from her car and was talking to a similar looking man. They got suspicious and went to check out what was happening. It turned out to be the same man. He wasn’t blind at all and had done the same thing to this lady to try and get money from her.”
Scam Artist Profile: The Lonely Phoney
“There was a man who kept incessantly calling my phone. How he got my number, from where, I don’t know. He just happened to call, hear a female voice and I guess that’s all he needed. Without exaggeration I’d get over 60 missed calls everyday and it came to a point where I couldn’t attend to business calls or any call at all without him blocking my line or several notifications turning up. I called my service provider to report the incident and they said I had to pay to block him though it was no fault of mine that they allow such people to harass the personal privacy of another customer.
I thought I’d try another strategy by taking the call and letting his credit finish while staying completely silent. He seemed to like this idea more and would talk endlessly in Sinhala telling me how it was the New Year and he was lonely and how hearing my voice say “Hello” that one day was what motivated his continual calls. Because I never said anything but left the phone near a fan or so, I heard him yelling at me in filth for not conversing with him when he was trying so hard with me. I contemplated changing my number until a friend of mine told me the same thing had happened to her mother who had called 119. I followed the same procedure. I’ve never heard from him since but I don’t know what they did either.”
“I got a call from an unknown number and when I picked up it turned out to be a male. He didn’t let me hang up and kept trying to ask me several questions. Then he started to call pretty regularly and once my mum yelled at him he stopped—only for that day. The calls continued, followed by texts asking me to pick up but then the calls stopped. Thereafter the calls would only come on Poya days because apparently he had first called me on a Poya day and it was special to him (or so he explained via text). Even though my boyfriend also yelled at the man he refused to stop. Eventually I had to just change my number because I really didn’t know what to do.”
Scam Artist Profile: The Slumdog Millionaire Racket
“I came across two beggars near Arpico (Wellawatte branch). One was seated on the floor and seemed like he couldn’t walk while the other one was crouching with a stick. The one with the stick kept nagging my father to give him money so my father finally did. Then the other beggar started yelling at my father telling him that the man with the stick can actually walk - he’s just pretending. To my surprise, he then started attacking the man with the stick! And the man with the stick stood perfectly upright to attack the other beggar! Eventually the beggar who was initially seated told the man with the stick not to come to “his area” and that if he does, he will “tell the boss”. So it became apparent that this group is run by someone who assigns people to beg in selected areas.”
Scam Artist Profile: Empty Pockets
Location: Havelock Road, Thummulla Juction and Colpetty
“I met a man on the road near Royal Institute who seemed elderly and worried. He ran up to me and told me that he had just moved to Colombo. His granddaughter who’s just one and a half months of age had fallen on the coconut scraper and was profusely bleeding from her neck. Since he’s just moved he said he had no money to take a Tuk. He asked for about Rs. 300 to travel to the hospital and so I helped him. Four months later I saw the same man repeating word for word the story he had told me to another girl near the University of Colombo!”
“My dad and I were walking near the Colpetty market on a weekday when a lady who looked dishevelled came up to us saying, “Mahaththaya, mata Pita Kotuwata yanna owne. Putha ethanata enawa kiwwa eth mang gaawa salli na. Keeyak hari denna puluwang da?”. My dad was taken aback and gave her more than the required fare amount and we even waited for the Pita Kotuwa bus, spoke to the conductor and helped her in. The following week we were passing the market and there she was, repeating her story to someone else.”
Scam Artist Profile: The Helpless Child
Location: Mount Lavinia
“I’ve taken the bus to Mount Lavinia around 7:00PM quite a few times and noticed a small boy who’s possibly made to get on buses and beg. He’s a really small kid, about 8-10 years old and he always gets in from near the Dehiwala flyover. On one occasion the lady next to me became alarmed because it was night time and this boy was by himself so she wondered if any adult was accompanying him. We were positive that someone either gets in with him or is waiting for him when he gets down at the same exact spot.”
Share these stories with your family and friends to prevent them from getting caught to another scam artist.
Do you have a story you’d like to share and warn the public about? Let us know in the comments below!