Yesterday, while on my way to the office after running an errand along busy Quezon Avenue, a lean, English speaking man approached me.
I first thought he was Asian (Vietnamese or Chinese) because of his height and facial feature, but hearing all the twang and the ‘wirsh-warsh’ in his accent, I assumed he was American.
He introduced himself as a tourist from Boston who came to the Philippines with his Mexican girlfriend. He and his girlfriend just had a fight; the girl went so mad she ran away leaving him alone without anything, not even a coin in his pocket. He also said he does not know the place.
He said he barely knows any Tagalog and apologized for speaking to me in English.
As he was speaking, my street smartness proceeded to ascertain veracity of his story. I scanned him, imagining myself like Tony Stark in his Ironman helmet from his face to the bracelet in his arms down to the running shoes he wear. I re-assessed his accent, then his story, as he carried on speaking. He seemed sensible, I thought.
He said he needed to go back to their hotel but their hotel is in Subic. I didn’t wonder yet what on earth is he doing here in Quezon City which is approximately 161 kms far (100 miles) from where we’re standing. This time he began to sound absurd.
Then came in the punch-line! While I continue my mental assessment and scanning of the person, he asked me something, “Now, what I need is to have a little for a bus ride to get back to Subic.”
This made me suspicious but have to politely reply, “I’m sorry I cannot help you like you expect me to”, delivered in my broken English, I must admit.
I was, however, trying to mentally calculate how much a bus ride from Quezon City to Subic might cost. That’s probably about 300-500 pesos (around 7-11 dollars), so if I’m going to give him that amount he should be telling the truth, I told myself.
“I suggest that you go to the nearest police station and ask them for help” I said.
He didn’t seem to like the idea as I saw in his facial expression. “Look, it was not like she stole my things, it’s just that she went so jealous and we had a fight, then she left me alone”, he countered. Then he became a bit adamant that I hand him over a little amount I could spare.
This time, I had to courteously (as I remembered) turn him down, not because I do not want to help but because I did not have that spare amount to give him (honestly, please don’t smirk).
I repeated my suggestion, told him that the best thing he can do is go to the nearest police station, which I thought at the moment was the most sensible and logical thing to do in this kind of situation (honestly, right?). Although I’m also in a hurry, I’ll be more than willing to take him the police station if he obliges. I’m a hospitable Filipino, remember?
“Is there anything you can do to help me?” I’m sure he meant giving him money.
“I can take you to the nearest police station.” I replied.
“I already know where it is”, he answered and walked away quite disappointed.
Seeing him leave, I didn’t feel guilty at all for refusing to help a stranger, an American tourist in that case. On the onset, I must admit it worried me that by not helping him, I’m leaving the ‘tourist’ a bad impression about Filipinos. The way he ended our conversation actually made me feel I did just the right thing.
Afterwards I scanned the place and discovered that just about three meters from me is a police about to get inside his patrol car. The exact location of the police car is within the vista of the stranger, and I’m sure he saw the police officer before he left.
I was tempted to approach the officer to refer to him the stranger’s problem, maybe he could help well. But if the ‘tourist from Boston’ were really in need of help, why refuse to go to the officer himself?
Now I thought everything about him is fake: his girlfriend, his story, his accent and his origin. I even doubt he is just a Filipino scammer, a con who happened to speak fluent English programmed to make a victim of gullible Pinoys (well-known of their hospitality to foreigners) in the street.
Later in the office and still wondering about the experience, I remembered about the term social engineering which I learned from an activist friend I met when I was still working in a church some years ago. Technically defined it refers to psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information but on a broader sense it also means manipulation to get money from unsuspecting victims. We had to deal with same cases almost every day: of people using social engineering to ask for money, for food, for fare, for medicine assistance. Some are real, most are opportunistic bums. We help them anyway, but only as far as we can.
Of course, in Quezon City alone, hundreds of scammers abound (even inside the city hall). Gangs like the Budol-budol, Salisi etc. who employ different modus operandi to dupe and swindle people, mostly the gullible and unassuming like students, senior citizens, and women.
As one web article cautions: these swindlers usually front an attractive lead, male or female depending on their plot, strategically set-up to disarm the potential victim and avoid suspicion at the same time. Victims of the Budol-budol gang often describe the members as sweet-talking, charismatic, and convincing. Other victims even report having been hypnotized by the group.
I had been a victim of such schemes many times already.
No doubt, he’s a scammer, and having eluded his evil plan and thwarted his attempt to dupe me calls for a celebration. A dip in a beach in Subic, perhaps?
Daily Prompt: City