How lucrative can panhandling be?

Gasoline Beggars In And Around Los Angeles - Scam?

Last weekend I drove back to Los Angeles by car. I filled up in Victorville and filled up again near the LAX rental car drop off point. On both occasions a man came up to me and asked to put gas in his car. They used phrases like "I'm not asking for money just for gasoline" and "You can put it in yourself". I didn't trust him and refused as I believe it was a scam.

According to, sobrory panhandlers are a common scam, but in the Scambusters example they charge money, not gas, and Scambusters even suggests that offering to buy the gas is a surefire answer. In my case, however, they didn't ask for money - just gasoline. From scambusters:

If you stand around while your gas tank fills up, you are a sedentary target for scammers hanging out by the pumps and service areas with a sob story for anyone to listen.


Action: Saying "no" can be difficult, but that's usually the best answer. If you really feel you need to help, offer to buy the gasoline or food instead of handing over cash.

If someone asks me to buy gasoline for them, is it a scam? How does it work? It's never happened to me before, but it happened twice in a row in Southern California.


Two things:

  1. Easy grip. Getting people to pump a gallon or two of gasoline is easier than parting with actual money.
  2. It's a distraction. While you pumping the gas, don't watch your vehicle, which makes it easier for the accomplice to wipe something. Even if you're watching your vehicle, the Grifter is still getting some gasoline.

That happened to me last year in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

A woman came up to me at a gas station and first asked for some money. I said no and she started making comments about how her sick grandma was in a hospital somewhere, might be the last time she will see her etc; typical Sobrory scam lines. I told her no again and she asked if I could put some gas in her car instead. Again I refused, she called me heartless, went to the nearest pump and gave this woman the same game (this woman gave her a $ 20 bill).

Later, on the same day, I stopped at another gas station (+ supermarket) near the first one because I was thirsty and it was on the way to where I wanted to go. On the way out of the supermarket I noticed that the same woman from earlier was giving the same game to another woman. I was curious about what was going to happen and she didn't seem to notice me, so I stayed in my car for a few minutes to see what had happened.

The cheater ended up giving her an almost literal game, except this time her baby daddy didn't let her see her daughter. This woman finally filled the tank (~ 12 gallons if I remember correctly), said how grateful she was, got in her car, and drove away. As I was sitting behind this other woman in my car, I noticed that she had a "baby on board" sticker in her window, which indicated to me that the cheater was likely to change the story based on the audience.

The next time I was in the area, about a week later, I had to get some gas again. I stopped, pumped my gas, and waited for the receipt to be printed when she came back to me (she probably didn't recognize me) and gave me the same game, but this time it was her father on dialysis. I called her and told her that she had already asked me when it was her grandma in the hospital and that I saw her ask when it was her baby daddy who didn't let her see her daughter.

She told me to mind my own business and "think hard" about going to different gas stations in the future before leaving.

The possible benefits I could think of for this scam were

  • If you (the scammer) ask and the brand gives you cash (maybe because they're scared of skimmers) you will get free money
  • If you ask and they will give you some gas they can vent the gas into canisters to resell for 100% profit. If someone buys you a full tank, you will have to somehow get rid of the gas before you can run the scam again
  • If you run into trouble or the attendant tells you to get started, there are always more shifts and more stations to try your luck at

Gasoline is still something valuable that can be bought back at a lower price. So it is not true that it is not asking for money. But it can be used for a more sinister purpose.

One possible scam is to use a car with double tanks (in fact they have a valid purpose such as desert / safari tours to go as far as normal as a safety reserve. My brother and I have it used in Namibia.) And fill them beforehand . So check beforehand that the counter is set to zero (and if someone "happens to" stand in front of the meter and block your view. If so, you know you are set up). Then fill up a small amount of fuel thinking you only have to pay $ 5-10, the beggars flee and the shopkeeper is charging $ 80 and because it is visible that you actually filled the tank and said you paid for what You need to pay.

This trick only works when there is a lot of traffic in the gas station as only then can they find a victim in time to pull them away. You can't wait hours for someone after filling the tank.

Even if you are not set up, the beggars already have a foot in the door and it is possible that they are trying to influence you to give money with a sob story. So the best course of action is never to respond to begging.

I'll make another fraud suggestion: the beggars installed a "skimmer" on the pump credit card reader that copies your number and PIN. So they pump $ 5 of gas into your card, but then they pull the data and make large, unauthorized withdrawals.

It depends on what you mean by fraud. They won't necessarily steal from you, but be aware that at current gas prices, a few gallons can be $ 10 to $ 20 and a full tank can be $ 40 to $ 80.

This could be more than you would ever give in cash to a scammer. In that sense, it's lucrative for them.

Whether the sob story is real is controversial. Most don't seem to be.

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