Scam alert: The old “need to buy gas” story

Just out of the WSB inbox from Lisa:

There’s a scam going on at Westwood Village this morning. A guy ‘recognized’ me as someone who had offered earlier to help him. The story is that he has a van with his 7 yr old sister and they’re trying to get back to Bellingham but they’ve run out of gas. There’s another ‘helpful person’ who has gas cans and is willing to drive this fellow to a gas station to get the gas, but doesn’t have money herself to buy it. When I offered to take him & his little sister to a gas station and buy both gas can and gas, he got huffy and found an excuse to break off the conversation. Both are caucasian, and possibly in their 30’s. He’s younger, and is tall & skinny with blemishes. She’s older and heavy-set and is in a white sedan. Just thought I’d pass a warning along. I also let the manager at Target know about the situation so that he could call the police to drive through the area.

You’ve probably seen this one a few times yourself, but if not, our favorite scam/urban legend site,, has a page about it.

24 Replies to "Scam alert: The old "need to buy gas" story"

  • mike January 7, 2009 (10:45 am)

    It pisses me off that scammers will prey on a person’s desire to help another person!

  • Brian January 7, 2009 (10:57 am)

    This happened to me in California years ago. Same story….family was trying to get home and spent their last amount of cash on food for the kids. They asked if I could give them cash for gas and they would mail it back to me when I got home. I told them I didn’t have any cash and they left. Honestly, I’m surprised that people still fall for these scams still.

  • Scott January 7, 2009 (11:04 am)

    Similar thing happened to me on California Avenue years ago. Guy came in to the coffee shop I was working at and gave me a sob story about his wife giving birth at a hospital and he needed money to get there. He promised repayment and even dropped the name of the woman running the business next door (clever!). Never saw him again, of course.

  • Patrick January 7, 2009 (11:07 am)

    I see he’s moved on from his late night rounds of the Thriftway parking lot.

  • Sue January 7, 2009 (11:10 am)

    Back in NY my dad saw this guy at a commuter train station once, all dressed in a suit with briefcase, asking for money to get home since his wallet had been stolen. He looked like your average businessman, my dad believed him and gave him $10. A week later he saw the same man pulling the same scam on someone else.
    Just last week a coworker said she heard someone begging for bus fare. She had a Metro ticket book and tore off one of the tickets for him; he looked puzzled. She explained it was a bus ticket and he said “yeah, I guess I could use that too.” She said “weren’t you just asking for bus fare?” Realizing his scam was found out, he found another place to beg for money.

  • JvA January 7, 2009 (11:16 am)

    Hopefully we all only fall for such scams once, and for not too much money. I fell for it once when I was a teenager.

    A distraught woman near the Greyhound station really, really needed just $17 more to buy her ticket to some other city, and the bus was about to leave!

    My friend and I, who were both working for minimum wage at the time and were cleaned out for the day by helping her out, gave her the cash, expecting her to run for the ticket counter.

    Uh, yeah, no. She just stood there.

    Anyway, I’ve held my cash a lot closer with strangers since then. It was a cheap lesson.

  • Bonnie January 7, 2009 (11:17 am)

    Sue, same thing happened to me right outside Wallgreen’s on 35th a few years ago. Someone was begging for bus money and I gave him a bus ticket. He wasn’t happy to get it.

  • Evesdropper January 7, 2009 (11:30 am)

    Totally off topic, but similar? This might explain where your stolen GPS units are going. Yesterday I overheard the security guard at the downtown IGA telling my checker that he just bought a new GPS for only $10! He pulled it out and showed it to her. When she asked him how he got it for such a low price, he said a man at a gas station approached him and said he needed to buy gas and was willing to sell his GPS for $10 worth of gas. That GPS was obviously stolen and the thief selling it is obviously clueless because he could have gotten so much more for it.

  • Eddie January 7, 2009 (11:42 am)

    Got approached outside the Jefferson Square Safeway last summer by a fellow who “needed gas money to get his family to a shelter….” and then produced a very tired looking list of shelters for his family in the seattle area and he began to run off the two or three that he had tried and how he didn’t have enough gas money to get to the next ones up in north seattle or something.

    While I was tempted to give him $5, my wife encouraged me to “get it on the way out”, and then suggested that maybe they’d like a loaf of bread just as much.

    Of course he was gone when we came out of the store.

  • Orin January 7, 2009 (11:56 am)

    When I lived in Lower Queen Anne, some guy who didn’t look particularly impoverished tried something like this. I pointed out to him that the gasoline marketers would give credit cards to anyone with a pulse (true at the time, don’t know about now), and that he should get one; in the meantime he got all huffy, but left when I said I’d call the police if he didn’t get away from me.

    A few weeks later, this same guy tried to pull the same scam. I said to him, “didn’t you learn anything from the last time you told me this story?” His jaw dropped, his face turned white as a sheet, and he disappeared.

    I dunno, I feel no obligation to be anything like courteous to these people…

  • Orin January 7, 2009 (11:59 am)

    Oh, and when someone asks for bus money, I point out that Metro has a very strict rule against drivers getting into fare disputes, so just get on and play dumb when they ask for money. The reaction is usually words a family Web site can’t print, which only proves they had no intention of riding the bus.

  • Michael January 7, 2009 (12:06 pm)

    Can’t decide what’s more humorous:
    – That someone bothered to “report” this,
    – That WSB bothered to “print” it,
    – Or that commenters are so all over it.
    Welcome to something called “the city,” people.

  • WSB January 7, 2009 (1:14 pm)

    Michael, I once met an intelligent, kind, not-otherwise-naive woman who actually believed the Nigerian e-mail scam. That cured me forever of dismissing something like this as “oh, everybody knows.” Believe it or not, they don’t. If it didn’t work, the scammers and panhandlers would have given it up a long time ago – TR

  • cjboffoli January 7, 2009 (1:25 pm)

    This guy tried the same story on me over at the WS Nursery last year. Definite tweaker. I hope he gets himself some help.

  • homesweethome January 7, 2009 (1:37 pm)

    Eddie – this same fellow at Jeff Sq approached me last summer while I was carrying my infant daughter – he was clearly intoxicated when he approached and had the same tired list

  • elizabeth January 7, 2009 (1:47 pm)

    I live in NYC now and you can’t get away from people asking for money with stories. You get used to saying no or in a way, ignoring them. Which I usually just don’t acknowledge them because they are in abundance here!

    Also a few years ago when I was living in West Seattle, I had a guy come up to my boyfriend and I outside Elliott Bay on California and gave us a laundry list of problems, car was broken, needed gas money because his infant daughter was sick and it was cold (it was April or May)

  • JH January 7, 2009 (2:04 pm)

    Trust me-so many people fall for these scams (including the Nigerian scams)!

  • add January 7, 2009 (3:39 pm)

    I think I had the same guy as Eddie a few months ago when I was coming out of the Westwood Village QFC – I told him I had no cash but would be happy to give him something from my two bags of groceries. He said, well we don’t have a kitchen or way to cook anything – so I said how about some cold cuts then? He took the roast beef and said thanks but I’m sure he was pissed.

  • Kat January 7, 2009 (3:53 pm)

    For me, it was the Target parking lot and a young mother who couldn’t afford formula. I wouldn’t give her cash but agreed to go inside and buy some for her. A few minutes later, realizing I had forgotten to get something I went back in the store and saw her in the customer service line — I’m assuming trying to get cash for the return.

  • What January 7, 2009 (4:11 pm)

    Sounds like the people waiting at the end of the exit off West Seattle bridge on 1st Ave. Some might be legit in need but the guy wearing a new $250 Helly Hansen jacket is not.

  • Gatewood Mom January 7, 2009 (6:39 pm)

    My husband works in Westwood and he told me a guy came into his store this morning and offered 2 of his employees a laptop and an iPod in exchange for “a couple of gallons of gas.” He claimed he needed to move his car before it was towed. I’m sure the items he offered belonged to him (NOT).

  • fiz January 7, 2009 (8:09 pm)

    The other one that keeps reappearing is the young woman with the bruised and scratched face who needs ‘Greyhound money’ to get away and home to wherever. Yes, my friend believed it and gave her all the money he had. She works Capital Hill and other neighborhoods.

  • WTF January 7, 2009 (8:59 pm)

    Oh, you guys. This is one of the oldest ones in the book.

  • Sue January 7, 2009 (9:06 pm)

    @What, you can’t assume that someone wearing a new jacket can’t also be in need. My husband just donated a brand new, expensive jacket to a local organization looking for coats for the homeless. And this reminds me of when I first arrived in Seattle and had no job and no money – I was downtown on a job interview, wearing a $400 suit, and carrying a Tiffany’s bag because my old job had given it to me as a goodbye gift and I went there after the interview. So here I was looking like I was quite well off, when in fact I wasn’t and didn’t even have enough $ to buy lunch. We can’t always judge people by their appearance.

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