jueves, junio 01, 2006

Read and learn. I hope this never happens to anyone.

I ran out of the house this morning to cash my last paycheck. I got to the bank, waited online, got the cash, and started to walk down the street looking for a place to eat lunch. All of a sudden, a woman taps me on the shoulder. She is talking to a fat, tan man in a light brown leather jacket. She asks me to help the man. He’s from the countryside and doesn’t know how to read. She’d be happy to help him but doesn’t have the time. He explained the rest. His father sent him to Santiago from Rapel (the boondocks) to collect on a lottery ticket. On a piece of paper, he had the address of some lawyer his father had sent him to so that he could get the money. You can get more money at once if you go through a lawyer, he says. I answer, yes, it works the same in the US. It’s only a block away, so I agree to take him. I’ve had to ask for directions countless times since I got to Santiago. It’s not uncommon for people to go out of their way to walk you somewhere. I didn’t think twice about it.

When we are almost there we see a man in a tie and sweatervest approaching. From now on, I refer to these two as ‘Illiterate’ and ‘Tie.’ By this point Illiterate knew I was a foreigner. He stopped Tie just to make sure that he was heading up the right street. He shows Tie the piece of paper with the address. Illiterate wants to tell Tie the whole story. He pulls out his lottery ticket which is stuffed in an envelope along with the money his father had given him to come to the city. I tell Illiterate to put the money away. It’s not safe to be waving cash about like that. Tie tells us we shouldn’t go to the lawyer because the lawyer will charge legal fees. At this point it is all a bit too much for me. I want to go get lunch. How do I get rid of these two? I tried, but Tie tells me something along the lines of what’s a few minutes of your life just to help another person? I’ve met with so many genuinely kind people in Chile that I think to myself, yeah, ok, just finish the business and be on your way.

Illiterate wasn’t feeling well. He went to the bathroom in McDonalds while Tie and I went to a Lottery office to verify that his was the winning ticket. We had written the number on a piece of paper and told Illiterate we’d go and check for him. Sure enough, it was the same number as we saw on the board in a lottery office. We went back to the McDonalds and Illiterate said he was very sick. But his father would kill him if he didn’t get the money. Could we do it for him?

This was a lot of money we were talking about. $10,000,000 pesos was what he said he would get right away. That’s $20,000USD. But he wanted us to give him something to guarantee we wouldn’t run off with his money. Tie offers his identity card. Illiterate doesn’t think that’s enough. Tie offers him his bag. He shows he’s got his wallet inside with bills and some papers from work. They ask me to give something to but I refuse. I ask Tie to carry the lottery ticket. If I have nothing, then it doesn’t matter. Illiterate takes me off to the side to tell me that he trusts me more than Tie. He wants me to hold the ticket. Only, I have to hold it in his bag – the bag his father gave him. The bag was a little brown cotton sack with light blue flowers. As a superstition, he wanted me to put my money in the bag with the ticket. I’d put the bag with flowers inside my messenger bag. At this point I’d spent so much time with these two, I was willing to do anything to end it all. I refused at first but then said ok. I handed him the money I had just got at the bank and watched him put it in the bag. Illiterate then gave me the bag and off we went – Tie and I. Tie quickly told me he didn’t feel right leaving Illiterate alone and ran off before I could say anything. I had the paper with the address of a place to collect the money. I took a few steps and then realized this just couldn’t be. I opened up the bag inside my bag and guess what – it was stuffed with newspaper! Somehow, Illiterate had switched bags on me! I lost about $200US. I ran as fast as I could back to where I last saw the men, but they had gone.

I couldn’t find a policeman anywhere. They are all downtown, beating up and gassing student protesters. I hysterically told my story to a security guard in McDonalds. She couldn’t do anything for me except get me a glass of water and tell me to calm down. From there I ran as fast as I could to the police station – a 20 minute walk. By the time I got there I was coughing like I had bronchitis (when you run, you breathe in 3x as much pollution), shaking from the trauma of the whole thing, and shivering from the cold outside. I had run all the way with my jacket open. On top of all of this I had to tell the above story in a foreign language to a stone-faced police officer who was more interested in writing up a nice report with very sophisticated language than he was in serving justice. Other policemen had heard of this con, but never one so complex. Usually it happens in 2 minutes and the story is much simpler. I was with Tie and Illiterate for what was possibly 30+ minutes.

What a fucking elaborate con - 3 people, working together! The police think the woman who originally got my attention was also involved. From now on, if anyone talks to me out there - NO ESPANOL. Not even if you ask for the time. Got that? Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I feel like shit. How fucking stupid can someone be?

My excellent housemate, Nick, had a cup of tea with me after I told him what happened. He told me everyone gets scammed or robbed here at least once. Even he's been through it. It was nice to hear that after the policeman I was dealing with told me – you know, this really is your fault. Of course it is. Do you really feel it necessary to tell me that?


Anonymous Anónimo said...

Just readng the beginning of this sounds scarry and suspicious. Anyone in their right mind would take off and run after that tap on the shoulder.

Get smart!!!

7:27 p. m.  
Anonymous Anónimo said...

A lesson is learned, but the damage is irreversible.

7:33 p. m.  
Blogger LNR said...

Mr./Ms. Smart,
Chastising someone without leaving so much as a name is creepy and odd. Do I know you?

8:46 p. m.  
Blogger BTExpress said...

Well, at least you won't fall for that again.

You better not!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

3:23 a. m.  
Anonymous perukun said...

Who is that anonymous? Sounds like A to me (the first comment does, the 2nd comment not so much so). Anyway, Lauren, I'm just glad you are safe. $200 - I drink that much every weekend here... hardly worth running and catching a cold for. And I have to say (you will hate this) you deserved it - the whole story was so suspicious from the beginning...Bloody hell, what a bad thing to happen just before leaving. I like the story though - especially the details like the bag - sounds like real country bumpkin stuff. Jeez. Take care.

10:16 a. m.  
Blogger LNR said...

It's funny to see the variety of responses I've received to this post - both on here and by email. People living in Chile have been very sympathetic - they've been scammed before or it's happened to someone they know. People living elsewhere think I must have been off my head. I have to say, if this happened anywhere else I've lived I doubt I'd have spoken to the guy. You can't ask a stranger for help in the US. It just isn't done. Even more unlikely in Singapore. In Chile, people rely on each other a bit more. You can ask a stranger for help. Most of the time, you'll receive it. This is the mindset that the con artists play off of. If it didn't exist, they couldn't exist. How sad.

Anyway, B, you're right! It makes a great story. I'm going to write it up. Want to proofread? How funny would it be if I made some money off of this?

7:57 p. m.  

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