This evening I was driving through one of the inner suburbs of Melbourne when a man flagged me down. He said that his mother was dying and he needed a taxi ride to some hospital far away and needed to borrow $200. He was saying something about his phone, I wasn’t sure if he was planning to give me his phone number so I could call him to ask for repayment or offering his phone as collateral on the loan (incidentally a well known scam is to offer a stolen phone as collateral for a loan, it’s a way of selling a locked phone that doesn’t have cables).
I’ve encountered many beggars over the years, but he was by far the most serious about it – he demonstrated the level of desperation that I’ve only previously seen documented in history books and reports from travelers who visited developing countries. I will never know if his mother was dying, there are lots of other reasons why someone might urgently need cash (most of which won’t get much sympathy).
I gave him $20 as a gift. If his story was legitimate then I gave him 10% of what he needed so he only had to find another 9 people willing to do the same. If he was lying then I can afford to lose $20. In any case I definitely wasn’t going to do what he asked and withdraw hundreds of dollars from an ATM for him. Also regardless of whether he was telling the truth I didn’t want to have him repay me, if he’s telling the truth then I’m happy to give money to him and if he’s not then I’m better off avoiding him in future. If I had $50 I would probably have given it to him, but $200 is too much.
As I drove off I looked in my rear-vision mirror and saw him running between cars on the road trying to flag someone else down. Running through moving traffic on a Saturday night is another indication of how serious he was, generally someone who’s in a good state of mind and wants a long and healthy life won’t do that.