I was conned or A Fool and her Money Parted

When I have read or heard a story about someone being scammed I always said “If you’re stupid enough to fall for that you deserve to lose your money”.  Today those words are biting my bum.  So why broadcast the fact that I was a sucker?  My reason is twofold.  First I want to warn people in my area about the couple who are out to fleece you.  Second I would appreciate others posting comments of similar experiences or tips regarding what to do when approached by con artists.

Most of us have been approached  the person who says that they have run out of petrol and just need x amount for fuel.  This ‘lady’ was far more creative, I guess that’s where the term con artist comes from.

This is what happened, we needed a new vacuum cleaner.  I went to Clicks at East Rand Mall to buy one which was on special (see I’m financially cautious, always shop around for a good price).  When I found the vacuum cleaner I put it on the shop floor to open the box and check the size before making the purchase.  A friendly ‘lady’ who was nearby said to me that she bought one 2 weeks earlier and that it works well.  She is Afrikaans speaking and I am English so our conversation switched between the 2 languages.  She introduced herself as Yvonne and asked my name.  She was friendly and smiled a lot – not the obsequious mannerisms of a beggar.  She was also well groomed and had manicured nails.  She soon told me that her car had been stolen that morning (not too far fetched here in South Africa) but Tracker had recovered it and only the wheels had been stolen.  The thieves had escaped in a hurry and not even taken her bank cards which were in the car.  So all in all a it seemed she was telling a good news story, not looking for sympathy.  I think she also said something about it being her birthday.  She then told me that she had previously been in a bad accident, this was probably true, her leg had a brace on it and she showed me deep gouges in her arm.  She said that he was the owner of a beauty salon which was re-opening on Monday and asked me to take her phone no in case I ever needed a beauty treatment.    I saved the number which she gave me on my phone.  A few times while she was chatting away I thought “This woman seems a bit nutty, maybe she had a head injury”.  Eventually she got to the crux and asked if I would pay for baby formula for her as she had not yet re-claimed the car and bank card this morning.  She said I must phone her on Monday and she would pay me back.  Now for the part which should have rung alarm bells much louder (the bells should have been ringing long ago – she spoke too much, there were too many coincidences in her story and not everything added up).  Dunce, Dunce me!  Once I agreed to pay for it she said that she needed the till slip in case she needed to exchange it.  The reason given was that her child is allergic to cows milk, this was a soy formula which she wanted to try.  Yes, yes I know!  F&*%ing idiot me, you’re the weakest link, goodbye.  By the time we got to the till I was fairly sure that I was being taken for a ride but by then I couldn’t think of a way out without being rude or offensive.  I paid separately for the baby formula, gave her the till slip and we parted.  I almost went back into the store to speak to a manager but didn’t.

When I got home called the number which she had given, by then knowing that it would be a false no, this was confirmed.  I wanted to phone Clicks to ask if she had come back for a cash refund but held off doing this as I did not want to tell Cliff the story certain that he would say what a bloody fool I had been.  When he went to work on the bookcase in the garage I called the Clicks store (over an hour after the fact), to be told that a cash refund had just been given moments before my call.  I started wishing that I had a picture of her to give to ‘Boksburg Advertiser’ with the story of what happened to alert other stores and customers.  When Cliff later went out to watch rugby I phoned Clicks again to ask if they had any security footage from which a picture can be pulled for this purpose.  They are currently seeing if this can be done.  The interesting point from this 2nd call, I was told that a man came in to return the formula and get the cash refund.  She had told me that she was divorced and happy on her own.  Obviously they work as a team, how romantic.  They can do their business in any store.

Much later I told Cliff the story and after a bit of a chuckle was quite kind to me about it.  I should have fessed up earlier.

What should I have done differently?  Most importantly I should have refused the request for the till slip, this was a flashing neon giveaway that she wanted to return the product for cash.

Maybe I should have said something like “I want to help you but because you are a stranger to me do you mind if I take a photo of you”?  Then at least I would have been able to pass it on.

Maybe I should have offered to buy a smaller tin.

When I realized that I was being conned I should have had the guts to back out and say “Sorry I’ve changed my mind”.

I hold myself 100% accountable but I have noticed that some chain stores do not give a cash refund when a purchase is made with a card (I used my debit card and kept that transaction slip).  Some stores insist on reversing the transaction on the card.  If all stores enforced this then at least this would deter criminals.  She asked me if I would be paying with a card and asked me to put through the vacuum cleaner separately as I would need my slip for warranty purposes.

Again if you have any comments or advice to pass on from similar experience or general advice, please post a comment below so that we can learn from you.

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  1. Con artists are great psychologists. They can play very good mind games. A perfect combination of smiles and friendliness, clean looks, exchange of numbers to show that ‘we have reached a level where you can kind of trust me. I run a parlour and you can visit any time you want to’, a sad accident story, and asking money for baby’s food, which if you denied, you’d have been a bad woman. If she were a beggar, you could still think about trusting her. But this lady, you could have said no and it wouldn’t have hurt her much. She could have come back with her own money, if she were speaking truth.

  2. Don’t be! It’s fun to learn everything 😉

  3. My sister married a conman. He took all of us for a lot more than a few pounds, including in the end my sister’s life (for a variety of reasons, too long to go into). I never liked him, was not sure why and at their wedding, I met his mother. She was charming, an absolutely lovely lady. I tried to revise my opinion of him, I didn’t know him that well at the time, but a little voice at the back of my head told me ‘even conmen have mothers’.
    We should all listen to those little voices of intuition. However stupid it makes us feel, we should listen and act on what they tell us.

  4. Sorry you were caught out Sula. There is a guy at Northgate Clicks always needing nappies for his grandson and wanders around the store pretending he had a gammy leg and arm. He got me when I was only one in aisle more than once. Staff don’t do anything to stop it.
    Mark gets conned on a regular basis by beggars and the baby food story happened years ago in Durban before beggars were a dime a dozen on the beachfront. He just gives money so they don’t even have to return the goods.
    I am very cynical having learnt from all the times Mark has been conned and just say sorry I don’t have a job either and walk off.
    People make a living out of conning people don’t feel like you are a fool. They know how to manipulate your emotions.

    • Sounds like Mark is very kind, I get so cross when people are dishonest that I have no sympathy at all. When store staff are aware they really should stop these guys

  5. Oh man!!! I know this music!
    How many times have we bought a “bargain” from a roadside or parking lot seller, only to find it actually doesn’t work … memory sticks etc. Hubby’s philosophy – “It’s low risk, and maybe they need the money”.

    Or the car dealer who swears on his life the car has not been in an accident, and you take his word because, well, why would he lie? LOL!
    Unfortunately, we took the cheaper “as is” option which did not include a full checkup and warranty, so what can one do!

    However, we’ve also “helped” family members who were supposed to pay us back and just didn’t bother. We’ve forgiven them but certainly won’t fall into that trap again. Now we just smile and say “Ag shame! Hope you find a way.”
    You can be angry or you can learn from it and know better next time.

  6. I’ve had this happen, too. And I knew I was probably being conned, but I hoped that maybe I wasn’t.
    I have since made it my policy not to be talked into giving these people money – or buying them anything.
    I select reputable organizations instead and support them on a regular basis.
    It’s sad, but no-one can afford to help everyone in a difficult situation.
    Don’t feel bad – it isn’t you who is at fault. Don’t let people without scruples pervert your compassion; it is a commendable quality.

  7. I’ve had this happen, too. And I knew I was probably being conned, but I hoped that maybe I wasn’t.
    I have since made it my policy not to be talked into giving these people money – or buying them anything.
    I select reputable organizations instead and support them on a regular basis.
    It’s sad, but no-one can afford to help everyone in a difficult situation.
    Don’t feel bad – it isn’t you who is at fault. Don’t let people without scruples pervert your compassion; it is a wonderful quality.

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