Thursday, February 2, 2012

Top 5 Annoying NYC Money-Making Street Scams

Yesterday, I took the train into Manhattan and made the 20 minute walk to my office.  In that short walk I came across a bunch of people trying to make a buck--all somewhat annoying.  Here are the five worst.

5: "I need to get home." - In Grand Central Station, a person approached me, a bit embarrassed and maybe a little frantic, and explained that she needed to get home, but her purse was stolen and she has no money.  She wanted to know if I could help by buying her a train ticket or giving her some money to buy one?  There are a lot of holes in this story, but the biggest is one she didn't count on--I recognized her as the lady who tried to sell me the same story a week earlier.  (Realize that ticket lines are often long, so nobody is going to wait around to buy her a ticket...  Get it?)

4: "Just a penny." - I want to help the homeless.  I donate old coats, clothes, food, and money.  I occasionally give an individual cash or food on the street (in rare circumstances).  Some people have set up boxes where thy stand and ask people for donations to help the homeless.  They are there every day and are very persistent.  Turns out, they are the homeless person the money they collect is going to.  It strikes me as a lot of work, and it appears worth it--their boxes fill up by the end of the day.  I don't know if it's really lucrative, but it strikes me that their time could be better spent.

3: Selling CDs - I passed by a bunch of guys who were handing CDs to passers-by.  Handouts are common in NYC--on almost every corner someone is giving you a menu or coupon or advertisement or free sample.  You learn to walk right past.  Tourists don't, and are inundated with crap.  These CD guys hand the CDs out, people (mostly tourists) take them, then these CD guys come after the and charge them $10 for the CD!  Outrageous and obnoxious!  The CDs are of these very guys rapping or singing.  I told one, "I don't want to listen to you now--I certainly don't at home."  He backed off--there are easier targets.

Is this terrifying?  It is to me.
2:  Muppets - There are a bunch of people at different places who dress in old, ragged Elmo and Grover costumes and take pictures (for cash) with tourist's kids.  The costumes are really gross.  I didn't take a picture yesterday, but if I bump into them again, I'll add a snapshot to this post.  Nasty.  [Update: Lo and behold, I found a creepy Elmo!  Picture now attached.]

1: "Do you like to laugh?" - The worst handouts are comedy tickets.  That's right, people will come up to you and ask if you lke to laugh.  You say, "of course," then you are stuck listening to this guy (or gal) go on about the free comedy show tonight.  They want to give you free tickets, get your info, and confirm that you'll be there.  In reality, they are the budding comedians, and whether or not they're funny, there is a two-drink minimum at the show (and the drinks aren't cheap).  As I ignored the guy yesterday and read my book, he chose the strategy of getting my attention by reading my book cover out loud.  Huh?  What was that supposed to accomplish?  I didn't look up.

Maybe I'm a cynical jerk for making these comments.  Usually I just shut-up and accept it as part of working in the greatest city on Earth.  Today I thought it would make a good top 5.  Use the comments to share what you think, or to tell us whether you've ever encountered any crazy money-making scams on the street.


  1. The creepy dirty costumes are gross, but I don't mind when someone actually puts the effort in, like the naked cowboy, or one of those people who puts on a real costume with theatrical make-up.  I still wouldn't give them money, mind you, but I don't mind them as much.  Also, can't stand the prosthelytizers shouting at you on the street corner...although they aren't always looking for money.

  2. I once had a guy dressed like a pharaoh follow me for a block and call me a white devil because I laughed at his misspelled sign.

  3. Hahaha...classic!  

  4. Another good list! I don't mind anyone who tries to do something - sing a song, play an instrument or even put on a dirty custome - in those situations I call it supporting the arts when I give money. However, I cannot stand the whiners who give a sob story in the subway to an captive audience. I once watched one of those whiners turn from whining to being totally mean in less than a minute when a woman questioned his honesty.

  5. Thanks Heike, agreed.  The people on the subway with a sob story are ridiculous.  There's a lady on the shuttle who is there literally every day, just going back and forth on the shuttle, in different clothes, spouting the same sob story.  She doesn't seem to be so destitute.  Maybe she is, but it's hard to believe her.  The best way to be sure the people who need your help get it is to volunteer you time at a soup kitchen (or something), or give to charities who are known to be reputable.