11 January 2011

Con Artists

Drivers in France have been warned to be on the lookout for a hitchhiker who is adept at swindling money out of motorists with a string of elaborate stories. Known as ‘Max the Swiss Hitchhiker’, the man manages to talk food, transport and accommodation out of unwitting drivers by telling them he is either a businessman, grandfather or academic whose car has been stolen.

He is so charming that he has been invited home with many a motorist and given a bed for the night. He then invites his hosts to visit his chalet in the Swiss Alps, which, of course, does not exist. He also vows to pay them back for their hospitality, but the promised cheque never arrives.

Because he does not actually ask for money - motorists always offer to help after hearing his sob stories, and whilst some of them do give him money - Max cannot be convicted of fraud.

In a recent case brought by three drivers who spotted him on a bus in central France, he was found not guilty, despite failing to appear in court.

This fraudster is similar to an ‘English spoken’ con artist who targeted people coming out of Nice airport. He did ask for money, usually 50 euros, on the basis that he’d lost his wallet, promising to send it back which he never did. He was very successful in extracting cash but so brazen that his luck eventually ran out and he was lifted, convicted by the French courts and sent to prison.

This happened to me in London a few years ago when a young guy stopped me just as I was leaving the tube station, heading for my hotel. He claimed he had lost his wallet and only needed £5 to help him get a train ticket to get home to one of London’s suburbs. He was so good, he even asked me for a business card so he could send the money back.

I gave him the £5, it was Christmas after all, and went on my way wishing him luck but as I walked to my hotel, I felt something wasn’t quite right.

I walked back to the station expecting to see him asking other people for the rest of his train fare but he was waiting for the public phone to become free. I managed to get quite close to him without him noticing and heard him quite clearly say to the person on the other end of the line, ‘it’s ok I’ve got £5, I’ll get another couple of fivers and I’ll buy the booze before I get to your place.’

As he turned round, I approached him and said I felt mean and that if he gave me the £5 back, I’d given him his full train fare (I was holding out a tenner).

He gave me the £5, I told him where to go, and left him fuming. I’d managed to scam a scammer!  

And with that, I’m stopping my daily blog, which for the last 624 days (excluding holidays and weekends) has taken not a lot of my time, but enough to prevent me from concentrating on my book.

I’ll still post a blog if I’ve something to say, but for the last week or so (you’ve probably noticed) I’ve been struggling, so from now on I will not be posting a blog for the sake of it, it’ll be posted when there’s groundbreaking news of some sort or another!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's a shame Tom. So what am I to do now first thing every morning while my PC warms up and my email sync's ? Have enjoyed reading and quite often having a starring role in it though :-)

Regards - Steve