Standing in Paris’ Gare de Nord terminal today a young lady in a headscarf approached me with a clipboard. It seemed to be soliciting donations for “deaf mute” kids and others seemingly had already filled in their names, e-mail addresses and donation amount.
Before you despair of me too much I was faintly suspicious – the form was in English but since Gare de Nord is frequented by other English people who are traveling back to London via Eurostar, I let it slide. I had a two Euro coin in my pocket which I couldn’t change back to Sterling anyway, so I took the pen.
Immediately as I did so, she snatched the pen and clipboard back from me and walked away! I was baffled until I saw that four members of the French Rail Transport Police were walking past.
A legitimate chugger is an annoyance but as far as I know soliciting donations for a legitimate charity isn’t illegal. I decided to get out of there before she returned and marched purposefully across the concourse.
Moments later I felt a tugging at my arm – Monsieur, Monsieur! I smiled at the lady who by now had actually grabbed the crook of my elbow and explained I needed to use the bathroom.
She then said chillingly – “I just need your name!”
Until then I had believed this was a straight up scheme to fleece me for cash. However when it became clear her mark wasn’t going to get out his wallet, she then tells me tells me she’ll settle for my contact details.
Needless to say I kept walking and when it became clear to her I wasn’t stopping she cleared off too.
What was the scam, however? Was it a straight up cash swindle with a spot of ID fraud on the side? Was this woman legitimately representing a charity but harboured a dark criminal past? Perhaps she planned to pick my pocket as I filled in her form?
What I can say is that from my short but colourful time in security research, it’s easy to be complacent. Scammers prey on your sense of decency (think of all those deaf AND blind kids out there!) and will cynically exploit you.
Legitimate collectors will be able to provide the registered charity number and website for their organisation. Take the time to do your homework before forking out.