Anyone in need of a con artist knows to head for New York City, where it’s a licensed profession. While I’ll probably get verbally pummeled for profiling, I’m still going to say that most NYC scammers are young and usually men, but sometimes they’re young women. At least that describes the ones you meet on the streets of the city. There are plenty of confidence men and women who wear expensive suits and dresses, but they don’t generally try to sell you junk bonds on the corner. You have to look a little harder to find them, usually in upscale office buildings. But, if you’re looking to be fleeced by a run-of-the-mill swindler, you shouldn’t have any problem locating one, especially in the more-touristy areas.
Profiling has its pitfalls, however. When you stereotype, you let your defenses down around those who fall outside what you expect. That’s how we fell prey to an elderly fraudster today. My brother, Gus, bought tickets to a production of Little Shop of Horrors, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ellen Greene, for himself, my husband, son, and me, for today’s matinee at the City Center on 55th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues.
We got to the City Center minutes before the show started and joined the line of ticket holders. It was just Gus, my son, and me, because my husband hadn’t felt well and had stayed home. My son had suggested selling my husband’s ticket since he had seen tickets to this show selling online for up to ten times their face value. Gus, however, immediately nixed this idea, insisting that he positively did not want any involvement with haggling on the street, and he was especially horrified by the idea of having to sit next to a stranger we had just exploited.
So, when a well-dressed, elderly woman approached me and asked if I happened to have an extra ticket, I hesitated. I knew that Gus didn’t want to take advantage of anyone, but wouldn’t he want to recoup the ticket price? I decided to find out.
I grabbed his elbow and motioned toward the sweet, old lady. “Gus, this woman wants to know if we have an extra ticket we could sell her.” Gus shot me an “I don’t believe you are asking me this after what I said earlier” look and then glanced at the woman. No doubt, he was thinking of our mother when he sighed and said, “Oh all right. Sell her the ticket.” The woman looked delighted, at first. Then she assumed an “I’m living on a fixed income” face.
“How much do you want?” she asked.
“Just face value, $25,” I said.
She grimaced. “Oh, no. That’s too much. Would you take $10?”
I looked at Gus, who had his mouth hanging open in shock. “Um, no, I’m sorry,” I replied. “Thanks for your offer,” I turned away.
“How about $15,” she yelled at my back.
“No thank you,” I said. I was sorry I had gotten involved in this. I moved up in line, behind my son and Gus. A hand grabbed my arm. I turned and the woman asked, “$20?”
I looked helplessly at Gus. He rolled his eyes and said, “Fine.” Up ahead of us, a brisk ticket trade was ensuing with people raking in profits from their extra tickets, and here Gus was going to lose money.
The line was moving quickly, so it was imperative that the woman pay fast and close the deal. She got behind us in line and opened her purse which contained envelopes with money in them, each envelope designated for a particular expense. She pulled out the one that she used for ticket purchases (I’m guessing). Her envelopes must have struck a nerve with Gus because he said to her, “You can pay me $15.” She graciously thanked him and asked him to break a $20 bill or two a $10 bills.
By this time, we were at the door, being asked to present our tickets. Gus gave her the ticket and told her she could pay once we were inside the theater. Probably because she was standing between Gus and me, she didn’t take the ticket and run. Once inside, Gus located a $5 bill and finished the transaction, while I pretended to be looking at something interesting so as to not see the looks he was shooting at me.
When we got to our seats, the woman, Rose, looked around the theater. “We go to every show,” she announced.
“Who’s ‘we’?” I asked.
Her eyes widened at her slip. “Oh, some people I know.”
“Did they come with you?” I asked.
“Uh, no,” she said.
“Are they in the theater now?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t know. It depends on whether they got tickets. But they probably did.”
No doubt they did. She was an excellent profiler; she spotted me as a patsy immediately. Her friends were probably just as skilled.