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Frank Gray

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Beggar-for-gas con plays on big-hearted

Frank Gray

About three weeks ago, when the first arctic blast hit, a squirrel popped up outside our kitchen, hopping from window to window, watching my wife as she moved about the room.

He clearly either wanted to come inside where it was warm or was hoping for a doughnut or some such thing.

The next day my wife went to the hardware store and bought a bag of corn on the cob, the kind wildlife eat, and stuck one of the ears on the window ledge in case the squirrel came back.

Miserable weather like we’ve been having does tend to stir up sympathies in some people.

People like Ron Allen of Noble County.

On Christmas Day, with temperatures in the 20s, Allen stopped at the Speedway station on Sherman Boulevard and was approached by a woman in a Chevy Trailblazer with temporary plates. She tearfully told him that she’d had to drive from out of town to take her child to the emergency room and now she didn’t have the gas to get home and could he please give her some money for gas.

From time to time some of us are easy marks. Allen gave her the benefit of the doubt and gave her $20.

Then, on Monday morning, Allen was back in town, visiting friends, driving a different car, and he stopped at the same gas station, and who is there – sort of hidden behind one of the far pumps – but a woman in a Chevy Trailblazer with temporary plates.

She approached him. She’d had to drive from out of town to take her child to the emergency room and now she didn’t have the gas to get home and could he please give her some money for gas.

So Allen went into the store and told the clerk. The woman was running a con, he told them. It was the same woman, in her 20s, with the same car, same con, telling the same story, crying the same tears that she’d cried a month before, Allen said.

One of the clerks walked out to confront the woman, Allen said, but when the woman saw her approaching, she took off.

Allen yelled and got her license plate number.

The people at the Speedway station said they couldn’t comment to the media, but someone did say the same woman was running the same con at various stations around the city, and people were falling for it.

I talked to the police about it. There are people out there in need, I was told; it’s unfortunate that there are people who will exploit that to scam people out of money.

It’s not illegal to run cons like that, though, I was told. You’re allowed to ask people for money, even if you do make up a story to try to prod them along a little bit.

Besides, I was told, the incident happened on private property.

The owner of the property could order the woman to leave and not come back, I was told, so if she did return and try to run the scam again she could be charged with criminal trespass.

It makes Allen angry, though, and he thinks people should know about it.

“To me, that’s fraud,” he said.

Allen mentioned the case of a Steuben County woman who faked having cancer and raked in thousands of dollars from fundraisers put on by the community. She was prosecuted and sentenced to 60 days in jail. To him, this is no different.

It doesn’t appear that the police will be putting out an APB for our beggar, but at least the ploy of the woman in a Chevy Trailblazer and a nonexistent kid in the hospital has been exposed.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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