Last Friday, I was waiting for my boyfriend to pick me up from work. I was standing at our rendezvous whilst on my phone, to kill time. The traffic was terrible so I knew he’d be late.
I didn’t notice how long I’ve been waiting when I heard a man say ‘Miss. Miss.‘ As if calling someone. I looked around and saw that he was actually calling ME.
He was wearing a white shirt, maong pants, shoes, and a back pack. He was timidly smiling when he said ‘Pwede po ba ako makahingi ng tulong? Kahit 10 pesos lang.‘ (Can I ask for help? 10 pesos is fine.) Yes, he asked me for a lose change. My initial reaction was to say no and that’s what I did. I said ‘Pasensya na po.‘ (Sorry.) and shook my head. Then he walked away.
Why did I do that? I was scammed before. Let me tell you my story.
This happened years ago. I was walking from work. It was around 6 in the morning. A woman walked up to me and asked if I know a place she can rent. She was very sweaty and looked like she walked for miles trying to find a room or place to rent. At that time, I was also renting a shared condominium. I told the lady that I’m renting a room and that our landlady may still have an available one. So we walked to where I was staying.
The first stop was the landlady’s unit. I knocked several times but no one answered the door. We then decided to just come back at a later time. She asked if she could stay in our unit and I said yes. Inside the unit, she’s very insistent that I go up my room and take a nap or rest. She said she’ll be fine alone downstairs. Of course I didn’t oblige. I’m stupid already for letting an unknown person inside the unit but I’m not too stupid to leave her alone and wander. I also refused to look her directly in the eyes. From where I’m from, ‘budol-budol‘ is very common. The suspects will hypnotize their victims to get what they want. And one way you can be hypnotized is if you looked them in the eye.
She’s been very friendly to me since the start. I must admit, I’m a gullible person. I didn’t feel something’s wrong when she approached me. Maybe that’s why I let her in. She talked about her favorite TV shows and she even told me she was a part of the production crew of the old Pinoy TV Show ‘Okat-Tokat‘. Of course, I believed.
I was playing with the laptop and my back was turned from her. (Don’t worry, this laptop was tied to the table’s legs with a security chain. It’s rented from the unit owner so we can’t bring it anywhere.) I put my mobile phone beside the laptop so I can see it and it’s far from her. Besides, that’s the only thing she can steal from where we were. So I kept on playing and God knows what she was doing behind me. Finally, my friend went downstairs and said ‘Okay na. Gising na si Ate Landlady. Punta na daw kayo.‘ (The Landlady’s awake already. You can go back to her unit.) I asked her to call/text the landlady so we won’t waste our time going back and forth.
I was excited because finally, I can get rid of the unknown lady I let in the unit. Besides, I want to sleep already! So upon hearing the good news, I immediately stood up and walked up to my room to change. As I stood, my friend who told me the good news was walking towards to where we’re seated. She actually has an uncomfortable look on her face. The unknown lady (I forgot her name) followed me upstairs but I didn’t dare turn my back on her as I change. There’s a lot to steal from the rooms so I don’t want to chance it. We went down and I discreetly said to my friend as I walk down the stairs ‘Ikaw na muna bahala ‘jan’ ha.‘ (You take care of ‘that‘.) and looked at the direction of the laptop. At the back of my head (I just realized it after I went back to our unit) I heard the unknown lady said ‘Labas na. Labas agad.‘ (Go out. Go out.) It’s as if she was chanting it.
So we went out of the room and walked our way to the next building where my landlady resides. However, on our way there, she asked me if she can just get her things so she won’t have to go back and forth. She already liked the place so it’s a guarantee she’ll rent one of the rooms, but it would be easier if she already has her things with her. I agreed and even offered to wait for her in the lobby in case she needed help. I even told her she can’t text or call me since I left my phone upstairs! (Yes, we already exchanged numbers within that short time.) She went out never came back. I waited for 30 minutes before I went up to find my friends and other room mates worried. They asked me with high voices ‘Where have you been?!‘ ‘What took you so long?!‘ ‘Do you even know that lady?!‘ plus tons of other questions. I told them to calm down and explained what happened. Then my friend told me she was trying to call me but can’t. I said I left the phone beside the laptop and she said no, I didn’t. It’s not there. I checked and yes, it wasn’t there. I checked if it’s in my bag but no, it’s not there either. That’s when it dawned on me that I was robbed/scammed whatever you wanna call it.
My friend also realized that when she was walking towards the sofa (after she told me that the landlady’s already awake) she noticed the unknown lady pick something up from the table beside the laptop when she was standing up. Then the unknown lady showed her my broken phone-key chain. The unknown lady said it’s already broken so she took it. My friend thought it was the item she took from the table so she disregarded it. She didn’t even know I left my phone beside the laptop. I was actually trying to give her a sign that I left my phone there when I asked her to ‘take care of ‘that’‘. I was actually referring to my phone, but I didn’t say the word because I didn’t want the unknown lady to feel bad (she might think I’m accusing her of being a thief or something) if I deliberately say that in front of her. Well, that was what’s on my mind at the time.
So that’s the story of how I was scammed. I’m not particularly proud of my stupidity but I learned a lesson not to trust anyone for any reason. I was particularly soft when it comes to people asking for help. But because of what happened before, I learned to put my guard up. Hence, I declined the man asking for help last Friday.
However, I felt terribly bad after that. I realized he was sweating. He must’ve been walking for a long while. There were lost of questions in my head. Why he has no money? Was he robbed? Did he lose his wallet? Or maybe his money wasn’t just enough?
I remembered what happened to my brother. He had to walk for miles to get back home – and I’m not even exaggerating. It’s personal so I won’t be able to tell you why he had to walk – just know that he did because he has not enough money to board a jeepney/bus. He went to a police station to pawn his mobile phone (a very low class mobile phone) in exchange for 100 PHP ($1.95). The policemen took pity on him and just handed him the 100 PHP without taking his phone (Bless their hearts).
So I felt bad thinking about the man I just refused to help. What if he’s not a con artist and just really had short funds, for whatever reason? I thought about my brother asking people on the way for money just to be able to go home (of course, he didn’t directly go to the police station. He walked until he got there and during his walk, he asked for help from other people. Some helped him, some didn’t). It must’ve been degrading asking someone you don’t know for lose change.
I changed my mind and decided to help the man even if I’m short on funds my self. Besides, he said even 10 PHP is enough. And that’s all I can spare. I tried to look the way he went and saw him slowed down to probably ask another person for help. He stopped for a few good minute before moving on. I had the chance to run to him and give him my 10 pesos but I DIDN’T. I don’t know why but my body just stopped there, eyes looking at him as he walk away to look for another person to seek help from. Then he’s out of sight.
I think I stood there for a good 2 minutes before I noticed my boyfriend has just arrived.
It’s been 2 days but it’s still eating me from inside. What if he legitimately needed help? I didn’t do anything. With all the crimes circling the country, we’re all being told to be more careful with our environment. We shouldn’t talk to strangers, and we should stay away from people pretending to ask for help. But how do we determine if this someone who’s asking for help is real or scam? We just can’t. If we are to turn our backs on these people, how are we supposed to help the ones that truly need help? If those policemen didn’t trust my brother, they wouldn’t help him. They could’ve thought that it’s another scam people try to pull off to get easy money. But he really needed help at that time. And there were people who helped not expecting anything in return.
As for me, all I could do for the man was to pray for him. I prayed that he’s not a scammer, that he get the needed money, that he’s able to go home that night safe. Then I promised to myself that I’d help the next person who ask me.
Have you ever been caught up in the same situation? What did you do?