Beggars & Scam Artists, Chicago

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    by sambarnett
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    by dircelo
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    Beggars approach your car at intersections

    by dlandt Updated Mar 15, 2004

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    In Chicago's daytime, people frequently wait for red lights at busy intersections and then try to sell things to the waiting motorists. Water, candy, stolen socks etc. They usually claim to be from a church or other charitable organization, but in general these people are harmless, sober, and cheerful.

    At night its a different story. When someone approaches your car it is usually a beggar holding a cup. Let me tell you these people are hard to see!! They don't wear bright clothing, they seldom seem like they aren't on drugs, and they have little regard for their own safety, ignoring the lights and wandering aimlessly from stationary car to stationary car. They aren't likely to cause you problems as far as carjackings or latching onto your vehicle and refusing to let go until you give them something, but accidentally hitting them could still cause you legal problems. Just be aware that they are out there, and so are ambulance chasers.

    Warning: Despite what this tip says, it is ALWAYS customary for these people to approaach your car from the CENTER lane. If someone approaches your car from the sidewalk, you need to be alarmed, something is definitely NOT right.

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  • I need some cash...

    by grkboiler Updated Apr 3, 2005

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Some areas downtown have people asking for money or offering to place bets. Don't give them anything. Some frequent ones I run into:

    1. "I have AIDS and I am participating in an AIDS walk. Please sign my petition and give me whatever donation you feel necessary." This guy walks around the Loop. Don't sign his petition and don't give him money. He must walk in AIDS walks every week.

    2. "I need $2 to take the bus to go pick up my kids." This lady also walks around the Loop at night.

    3. "Let me tell you a joke." Another Loop prowler. Say no. He will charge you $1 for the joke. He also smells like urine and he will follow you until you give him the $1. Do you really want to hear that joke now?

    4. "I bet you $10 that...." There are a few of these out there. They are alogn Michigan Ave. and in the Loop. Whatever the bet is, don't take it. You won't win. You CAN'T win.

    5. "Hey, I lost my wallet in a cab. I really need to get to a job interview and I am running short on time. Can I have $10 so I can get something to eat and then call home?" This one involves a well-dressed man acting as a business traveler. My neighbor fell for it outside Lou Mitchell's. After finishing breakfast, my neighbor went outside and the "businessman" was still scamming people a block away.

    6. Along Michigan Ave., a legally blind "Baptist minister" from Indiana needed $18.50 to get his children on a bus to get home. When I asked him some questions about Indiana, he couldn't answer them. Nice try, pal.

    There are plenty of others, like the honest citizen running for Congress needing your donation on the spot, or the "starving" man with brand new Nike shoes. Gimme a break, people.

    Just leave them alone and go about your business.

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    Street Wise vendors and con artists

    by midnight_mike Written May 20, 2006

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    Street Wise is a publication which allows homeless people to earn a living. It cost $1 and the vendors sell it on busy street corners or anywhere a crowd is gathered. In theory, it is a really good idea having these people work for money instead of begging. Unfortunately, some of the vendors are really rude. Either they hand an unsuspecting tourist a newspaper and then demand money for it or they make a sarcastic remark about you if you ignore them. I rarely carry cash with me and I don't think I have to explain that to them.

    The other thing to watch out for is the "Excuse me sir, my car ran out of gas and I need to get back to Indiana" scam. I have heard so many different version of this story. It is unfortunate because there are people who are truly in such desperate situations but no one will believe them because of people like this. I made this mistake once when I was in Vancouver when I gave a guy $20, but never again.

    Homeless people hold cups in their hands on street corners. They are really in no position to make up some fancy story. It is the drug addicts who will try to steal and con you out of your money.

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    Aggressive Panhandlers

    by sambarnett Updated Dec 29, 2002

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

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    In two parts.

       “White liberals” and social UNrealists, don’t bother writing to slag me, I offer no apologies.
       (By the way, if you don’t know what I mean by “white liberal,” check out the classic Lenny Bruce skit, “How to Relax Your Colored Friends at Parties” Learn more here:

       I’ve been to lot of big cities and it is my *opinion* that many of the panhandlers of the Loop and Museum Campus areas are some of the most rude, pushy, ungrateful people I’ve had the misfortune to deal with. As for danger, remember: 1.) these are the most visited parts of the city so you probably won’t have to worry about being alone or isolated from safety and 2.) they probably mean you no harm. Still, if one beggar is particularly pushy immediately head for an established business, busy street or find a police officer.

       Beyond that, I would like to draw your attention to Streetwise, a support network for Chicago’s homeless. This small newspaper, published once a week, is sold for $1 around the city. Sixty five cents goes directly to the vendor and many have used Streetwise to escape poverty and homelessness, the rest is split between running the paper and various empowerment programs. Defintely a worthy enterprise.

       Vendors are required to wear and ID badge and conform to a standard of behaviour, which does not allow rudeness or pushy selling. Check for that ID, it’s not uncommon for stacks of the paper to be stolen and sold by those not in the program.

       Oh, and I should mention that some of the panhandlers I’ve met around Wicker Park were pretty cool, interesting people.

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    Aggressive panhandler tactics

    by sambarnett Updated Dec 29, 2002

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    Homelessness and poverty are two of the worst social problems in our society; they should never be treated lightly or ignored. But unfortunately there are those who exploit this for personal gain. Here are some of their tactics to be aware of:

    The Shoe Shiner. Some fast talker distracts you with his loquaciousness and the next thing you know he’s on his knees shining your shoes. After he’s done you get the news, “That’ll cost you fifteen bucks.” Of course you don’t want to give him that so you tell him you don’t have it. He berates you, tells you he has to pay a commission to the company that provided the cleaning materials, etc... but after some back and forth, he’s “willing” to accept a couple singles.

    The Newspaper Boy. You’re walking down the street and someone shoves a periodical into your hands. You keep walking, thinking it's gratis, and then he begins to yell, saying you have to pay for that.

    The Candy Seller. Usually seen worming their way around major outdoor, summer events, usually perpetrated by kids. “The sale of this candy benefits a school or youth sports league.” Whatever. Unless you see a badge or a responsible adult, the candy boxes have been stolen from area freight depots. Do you think any responsible organization dedicated to youth would let kids wander around, unsupervised at major events? Plus, at two bucks a candy bar it’s a rip off.

       Tips for dealing with these annoyances: Simple, tell them to get lost. They try to play off your emotions and make you feel bad, as if you owe them something. After handing a fellow a few quarters I actually had a beggar suggest I give him five dollars. I responded with, “How ‘bout I give you a big load of nothing?” and added something I cannot repeat here. Realize that many of the most aggressive beggars do this as a “career” and make a decent “living” this way. Regular newspaper exposes can attest to this.

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  • Public Transportation Con Artists

    by Hillari Written May 1, 2005

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    Do not, I repeat, do not ever take part in the card or shell games that take place on the 'L. How they begin is one guy will start talking loudly about "now here we go with show" or something similar. The game is to guess where the red card is at or which covering the ball is under. It never fails. . some passenger who should know better will look too long in the con artist's direction, and get sucked into the game. There's also one or two "hype" persons encouraging the passenger to continue. The "hype" persons are so obvious it's sickening. Once they have fleeced enough people out of money, they move on to the next train car.

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    Wicker Park - "We're in this Band"

    by uniko509 Written Jul 2, 2009

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    There are two scam artists who walk around Wicker Park saying they're in bands that have upcoming shows at the Metro. They have also been seen at such festivals like the Taste of Chicago recently.

    They're pretty convincing and make you believe they actually might be in the band they're talking about until you see them walking around all the time, telling people they're in completely different bands. {They've tried to be Camera Obscura, The Kills, and even in Lady Sovereign's band just to name a few.}

    What they do is try to sell you a CD {which is blank} with a clipping of the Metro flier for the show and tell you that if you buy it, you can get free access to that specific Metro show. NO ONE for the Metro does this!

    Physical description of these two specific scammers: One is a bald-headed guy who usually wears black shorts, an oversized t-shirt and walks around with a bike {which my boyfriend overheard that he had lied about stealing the bike because the scammer scratched the serial numbers off this bike!}. The other is an Asian girl who wears two ponytails and a shaved head in the back. She also has various tattoos on her arm which are small and sparse. She is generally very sweet, but she's just as much a part of the scam.

    Do NOT buy CDs from people on the street telling you they are in a band unless their band is playing RIGHT THERE. No one who is a real, playing musician goes up to strangers to sell their CDs. People do sell CDs on the street, but they will usually let YOU come up to THEM while they're playing their own music.

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    by Birdbrain Updated Mar 9, 2003

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    If you're uncomfortable with panhandlers or just annoyed by them, then you should mentally brace yourself for a lot them if you're staying near downtown. I've found that saying 'I'm sorry' or 'no thank you' when confronted is very disarming. Ninty-nine percent of the time that does the trick. In the rare case that they're really persistant, you can remind them that panhandling is illegal in Chicago and suggest that you both visit the nearest officer to verify that fact. Then again, you can just throw them a few coins if you're feeling generous.

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  • Ignore them and they go away

    by Taupo Updated Jan 25, 2006

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    For someone like me , whose cities arent yet plagued with beggars , these characters are always quite worrying at first , particularly when traveling alone . But I took the locals advice and simply ignored them , and i mean , dont even look at them , and they soon go away...

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  • Be good to the Bums'

    by williammadden Written Nov 11, 2002

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    Some place in the city that you might go to will be rougher then others. Remember that for $5 you can have any bum go get you a taxi. No matter what kind of area you are in. That way you can stay inside were it is warm and safe. Make sure you give the Bum the money when he returns with the car not before. I am attaching Flash taxi's number for you. If you call them they will pick you up

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    poor people, beggars

    by dircelo Written Jan 26, 2006

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    beggar at Marshall & Fields on State street

    Not only in India or Africa, but also in the richest nation people have to stand in the cold, asking for support.

    Do not get scared though, most of them are harmless, though once in while if you not used to deal with them or if you are too friendly you may get into difficulties.

    Many are around State street and surroundings.

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  • Chicago Shoe Shine Scam

    by admanc Written Feb 28, 2012

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    I was stopped on a street by a guy who offered to shine my shoes. His friend walked away by about 15 feet, but stayed close by. I turned down the shine, but the man insisted he wanted to show me his skills and would do it for free. I tried to politely decline, but the next thing I know, he's already on the ground putting polish on my shoe. I let him shine one and then move to the other as he starts telling me his expertise in shoe shining. Suddenly, the price goes from free to $8 a shoe! I'm like "Whoa...hold on there. I said I didn't want a shine and you said you were going to show me what you could do." He then stands up and gets confrontational, acting like I'm the one who is ripping HIM off. Next thing I know, his friend comes back with this menacing look like he's going to be the "muscle" and force me to pay up. I reached into my pocket and said "Guys...all I got is $6. You can take it or leave it." He took the money and I quickly walked away. Beware! If a random dude on the street offers to shine your shoes, do NOT engage him in conversation or let him anywhere near your shoes.

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    The Onion: Don't buy it

    by Castaner Written Jun 20, 2006

    I've seen this happen many many times, especially in the downtown area and around the University of Chicago, in Hyde Park. There is a free newspaper called The Onion, which is actually a satiric paper and is widely read by many people. This paper comes out every Thursday. By Friday morning, most of the newspaper stands that carry The Onion will be empty and homeless people will be trying to sell them to you. Usually, they say it's for a charity or something of the like, but they are lying: no one sells The Onion. Don't be fooled

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  • Streetwise is legitimate/Some frauds

    by afeeney Updated Apr 4, 2011

    Streetwise is a legitimate newspaper with legitimate vendors. It's been a lifesaver for some of the vendors who have gotten income and job experience from selling it. Buying the newspaper is a way to make a real difference to help somebody. Be sure to buy only from vendors with ID, though. Sellers are NOT allowed to be aggressive or to pester if they've been refused. In fact, one of the signs that somebody is not a legit vendor is if they pester you.

    There are several free daily and weeklies including The Onion and Red Eye. Don't buy those.

    If you do want to help somebody on the street, you can buy Chicago Shares food vouchers from any of the locations listed on the link below. Many people who are homeless have substance abuse or mental health problems which can make cash donations actually counter-productive to their well-being.

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  • Being aware of beggars and shady characters

    by QueenBee75 Written Aug 6, 2008

    Giving most major cities they do have a high number of homeless and shady characters that prey on tourists because they won't have a clue as to what the city's elements are about. As for Chicago I want to keep it real and clear with tourists who plan to visit Chicago and that is to watch your surroundings. Do not ask for directions from bums that will give you directions in exchange for a couple dollars or some change. What many tourists don't really realize is that most of the homeless on the streets of Chicago are mentally ill and drug addicts and you don't want to have anything to do with them. Reason being is that this is their hustle to support their addiction and to eat on a daily basis. If you see homeless people wandering around a tourist area notify the police and make sure you give a full description of the individual and where you saw him or her at so that the police can pick them up. This helps the police lower the number of homeless that wander the downtown area so they don't harass citizens and tourists and making the streets safer.

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