I was just the potential victim of a classic New York scam.
I was walking back to my office from a visit to the Mac Store on 59th Street and 5th Avenue at 3pm. On 53rd Street between 6th and 7th avenues, I brush against another pedestrian walking very slowly to my right. I literally barely touch him. I mutter "excuse me" as I continue onward, while I hear the sound of something plastic hit the sidewalk. I look back briefly and see him stoop to pick something up. My Spidey-sense starts to tingle at this point.
The guy speeds ahead of me and to the right, and then suddenly slows down. I realize that to pass him will require me squeezing between him and the buildings to my left. I am pretty sure at this point that I am going to get scammed.
Sure enough, he turns to me and mutters, "Excuse me, you broke my glasses." He holds up a pair of plastick-y looking glasses with what looks like a large crack and a hole in it, like it had been poked with a sharp object.
I smile and say again, "I’m sorry about that" and hussle off. He tries to follow me, complaining more loudly about his broken glasses. I reach a busy intersection with lots of tourists, doormen, and street vendors. I decide that if he tries to accost me or ask me for money that I will call out his scam.
I turn to face him, and he’s nowhere to be found.
This scam has been around in New York, and probably lots of other places, forever. Among the other "broken" objects used for this con are bottles, food, and cameras. Always they involve some monetary compensation, even when the victim offers to replace it. Gothamist has a blog entry with a long list of interesting comments from people and what scams they have encountered in New York. My favorite is the guy posing as a hassidic jew, who I have seen several times in the East Village area. Who would suspect a hassid of lying about getting mugged and needing cab fare?
Scams and con artists are everywhere, preying upon your gullibility, your trust in others, your kindness towards people in need, or (my favorite) your greed. My most clicked blog posts are about the various con artists posing as staffers from various UN and NGO agencies, offering jobs, free airfare to conferences, and visas to unwitting victims. Many of their prey are professionals in developing countries hoping to get a cushy UN position.
Even in Second Life, con artists have come up with various schemes (some not very smart) to get at your real and Linden dollars. The official Linden Lab blog warns residents to never give out your Second Life password to anyone or any object in SL. Meaning that someone has come up with some scheme to gain access to resident’s SL accounts.
It’s a sad world we live in. The truly depressing part is that living in New York starts to turn off your empathy toward others in need, imagining that every homeless person or really anyone who approaches you on the street is a scammer.