Sunday, May 25, 2008

Scammed by 10-year-olds

Think it couldn't happen to you? Well, here's a cautionary tale, because last night, I was scammed. Scammed! By three 10-year-olds, no less.

They were buying a bunch of "kid groceries" (candy and crap), and I could almost hear their breathless anticipation as they handed over an extremely suspicious-looking $50 bill. This currency had been to hell and back; it was so battered, crumpled and faded that it was almost unrecognizable as a fifty. All the shiny bits had been washed off. Not good.

"Got anything else?" I asked, refusing to even touch the bill. They hummed and hawed and looked at each other the way kids do when something's up and nobody's sure where it's going.

"That's all the money we've got", said the Ringleader, casting a longing glance at the pile on the counter, then back up at me. Ping! went my little heartstrings.

"Well, it looks like funny money to me. Where'd you get it?"

"Someone paid us for yardwork with it", they said, going into some spiel about holograms and so forth in defense of the bill's veracity. My co-worker was on his break, so there was nobody else to whom I could delegate the task of Candy Denier and Disappointer of Children. Yardwork. Ping! "Well okay, I'll take it."

What ensued was like a microcosm of the Enron debacle. Instead of absconding with the forty and change of Real Money they now possessed, the kids got greedy and pushed their luck, and it was their undoing. They hung around outside the store and came in a few more times to buy stuff, but meanwhile my co-worker had returned, and that's where it all went sideways. I showed him the bill... "You took that?" he scoffed incredulously. An uninvolved customer got interested and produced a real fifty. We compared and contrasted. "Look at them, they're not even the same size!" he snorted. "You got scammed!" My face was burning with embarassment and rage. "Aw, shit!"

And who should come in the door but the young scam artists themselves, high as kites on sugar and looking to spend a little more of their ill-gotten gains. As they arrived at the counter with 10 chocolate bars in hand, I ominously intoned: "You guys have a problem".

I told them the 50 was counterfeit and, while I realized it wasn't their fault, I needed to at least know who gave it to them. At this point, I was sympathetic to them -- some heartless bastard had gotten these poor little guys to pull weeds all day in the hot sun and then paid them with the equivalent of monopoly money. But they weren't giving up a name, and under duress they finally admitted they'd found the bill on the road.

Now I was mad. "On the road? Didn't you tell me someone paid you?" They nodded sheepishly. "You mean you bullshitted me? Why'd you do that?" The kids were casting sidelong glances at the door, probably wishing they hadn't come through it that last time. "Okay guys, we need to fix this. You guys need to give the money back, and I'll give you your fake fifty back." I flicked the loathsome bill across the counter at them.

Of course, they'd already burned through almost $20. They coughed up what was left. "That's not enough, so I guess we'll have to get your parents to come in and make up the rest." That did it. Slowly they produced enough of their own loonies and toonies (I couldn't bear to take anything smaller) to make a dent in the outstanding debt. I felt awful -- nothing like shaking down little kids for their loose change to give your self-esteem a boot. But then, these kids had spent money, so why shouldn't it be their own? I threw in a few bucks of my own (think of it as a Gullibility Penalty) and we called it square. "Now, take this fifty to a bank or show it to your parents or something", I instructed. "And in the future, when a clerk doesn't like the looks of your money, don't argue with her."

Properly chastised, they departed (probably to hit up some other store), and I said to my co-worker "Can you believe that? They tried to scam me!" To which my smart-ass 18-year-old co-worker replied, "Wrong - they did scam you." Oh, the shame.