Friday, February 17, 2017

How to Recognize Fake Homeless People From Real

The “Pay it Forward” movement that is sweeping across the country has people wanting to do good for others. There’s no better feeling in the world than to give to someone who is less fortunate. Roanoke is not exception and while panhandling has become more of an issue since the summer of 2016, the real question that you need to ask yourself is "Are they really in need or just scamming me"?

While most people love to give to those in need, there are those people who panhandle as a method of income. We’ve all heard the stories of someone who struck gold by hitting the streets of the local city and begging. The problem is that there are people who are truly in need. How do we know if the people are true and those that are fake?

Here are some clues to help you recognize the real needy from the imposters. While it's not 100% fool proof, these guideline should help to identify those that are scammers or at least make you MORE aware of whom you are trying to help.


1. Their Gratitude or Attitude

One thing that helps to see if a person is truly in need is their attitude. While many people are leery of giving money, offer to buy them a sandwich or something to drink or even a days work for pay.

If they refuse the food, then they must not be in need. (common thought but not always true)

Many alcoholics and drug dealers find that begging is one of the best ways to get the money they need for their next fix with meth, heroin or their drug of choice. Anyone that is truly down on their luck will gladly take any food that is offered to them, even if they just ate.

2. Their Appearance

If someone is homeless, you don’t expect them to be sitting there in nice clothes. Look for things that might tip you off that they are faking. Things like piercings, nice clothes, bags, pets, and even tennis shoes can be an indication of a fake. However, that doesn’t mean that people haven’t donated to them either. If they are a homeless person, they probably will need a good bath and may have an odor to prove it.

Also, a good indication of someone in real need is what they have with them. Someone in real need is going to have a bag or two, sometimes a sleeping bag with them. Think all their worldly possessions in a couple of bags. They are not going to put their stuff out of eye sight.  People that are scamming you will NOT have these items so be on the lookout.

Also, many times professional panhandlers will make use of pets such as dogs or puppies in order to tug at your heart so you'll open up the wallet.

3. Observe the Surroundings

If the person is running a scam, they could be part of a larger group in operation. They may have a cell phone on them, or they may have a car parked close by for a quick getaway. Look for any abandoned cars or a bike close to them. Roanoke has been known to have at least one group of 4-5 people that use cell phones to communicate with each other while panhandling.

4. You See the Same Person Over and Over

People who panhandle on a daily basis are often habitual and play off the sympathy of others. If you see the same person time after time on the streets of Roanoke; it’s possible that they are doing it as a job not out of need. And yes there are a lot of the same people that frequent the same areas of our city. Some even have daily "routes" where you can literally find them over and over like clockwork.

More specific areas include the 419/220 North exit ramp, the 460 and King St in Roanoke near Bonsack, the Hersberger Exit that leads to Valley View (near Krispy Kreme), Cave Spring Corner, and the Elm Ave exit to 581 near Community Hospital. There are several more areas that frequent these scammers too.

When all else fails, go with your gut instinct. Though it is often hard to spot those who are fake from those who are telling the truth, it’s still more blessed to give to those in need than to error on the side of caution and cause someone to be without. The act of kindness will bring you good karma, and if they are lying then their karma won’t be as positive. Here is an interactive map that will help show these area hotspots.

5. The "You Don't Know their Situation" People

I get this a lot and there will always be people out there that state I'm a horrible person for not helping people. Well, honestly, it's quite the opposite, I WANT to help others, I just don't want to be scammed.

Let's play devils advocate for a moment. Say for a minute YOU are a person in need, maybe you lost your job or home and you're someone in TRUE need. Great, so you decide to stand on the side of the roads here in Roanoke, you make a sign and you ask for help.

Well, I'm driving along and lets say I have a couple of bucks in my pocket. Let's just say I'm a couple of miles away driving along and before I get to you, the person in real need, I see someone else, but this person is a scammer.

I see the sign at the stop light and I feel bad so I roll down my window and give out my $2 or $3 bucks to them. They have an apt, they have a car, a smartphone, internet and cable at their place and a pretty typical lifestyle.

Well, I just helped pay for their $70 cell phone bill. Instead of helping you, the person IN REAL NEED, I helped someone that racks in $100-$350 a day pretending to be a person in true need. Not to mention many get disability checks and they don't claim panhandling money on their taxes. See our article on How Much a Roanoke Panhandler can make in a Day.

So I leave that intersection to come to you where your standing. I already gave out my few extra bucks, so while you're in need, I just pass you by because I already helped a "homeless" panhandler.

  • You, the real person in need, lose. 
  • I, the person that wants to help someone in need also loses out
  • The scammer, well they're living pretty, 100% tax free and they fooled both you and me.
My point being that you can't really tell who is who as a normal everyday person that travels about in your car or truck in Roanoke. Unless you literally follow panhandling or observe closely, most average people have no idea.

Not all of these things apply and they apply all the time either. My point is that I want you to be MORE aware of whom is out there and to whom you give money too.

According to reports from HUD, roughly 60% of people panhandling are actually not in need, leaving roughly 4 in 10 people either homeless, penniless or simply in need of work.

Is it good to help others, yes indeed! BUT helping a scammer doesn't help truly needed people.

However, if you REALLY WANT TO HELP, then donate to a local organization that works with the homeless, those in need of food and clothes and organizations that help place families in housing too. You can find a list of them here.


  1. Thanks as well. I want to help as well and hate to be scanned. This was truly enlighten. One key , if they have their property with them never have I seen them with their belongings.

  2. I put it this way. I freely give gratuity's when I go out to eat with good or bad service. I'm not one to judge whether or not if a person is faking being needy or not. If it makes me feel good & the Dear Lord smiles when some one is helping without judgement, then my day is complete.

  3. Very good article ... good read ... if I have I try to give ... and I always say shame on them if they don't need it and Lord Bless them if they do ... I know I will get it wrong lol ... but I try to be a sheep when it comes to giving ... in Matthew it says that you never know when it's the Lord ... and well I would hate it if it was and I didn't give when I have ... the Bible does say I knocked and you answered ... you feed me, clothed me and watched over me and when you do this for the least you do for me ... and I know in this day and age people don't follow the Bible so much anymore and I'm like a dinosaur in this world ... but maybe just maybe if more did the world wouldn't be so bad!

    1. I agree April. And I always try to give food.

  4. Does Roanoke have a no panhandling ordinance? I know Covington city does a group of panhandlers hit us a while back and stood at intersections right outside the city limits so the cops couldn't run them off!

  5. I keep bags of goodies in May car. Each bag Containing portable foods like applesauce and granola bars wetnaps cough drops and travel size aspirin and toothbrush. I always have at leastv5 bags and roll down the window and give to homeless.

  6. I keep a give away bags with portable food and travel size item. Applesauce granola bars wetnaps toothbrush etc to give away

  7. What a great idea hcg magic!

  8. Coming from someone who's been homeless and panhandled to survive and eventually into a new and better life , let me tell you , first , if they refuse food or drink it might not be bevause they aren't homeless , it's because the last 6 people gave them food or drink , we can only eat so much , we can only store and carry so much , after a point with food we can no longer accept anymore , can good though is a blessing , but your 5th cold sub of the day and your done , now , the clothes thing thank you oh so much miss I just wanna help everyone author of this post because now you just screwed us , we don't all stink , we do t all have shitty clothes ,so of us take that money and get a 39$ motel for the night or a 125 week stay , yeah they are that cheap .. But now people think if we don't look like a gutter drunk were not homeless THANK YOU SO MUCH :/ the only thing you had right about that part is that people do donate clothes , but because of the clothing mind set your are enforcing we will generally decline or not use then cause you guys think were scamming if we do , your wqsting your time , as for seeing the same people let me tell you this is very tru , specially in spring and fall , when you homeless , and winter is Comjng you move to more southern or warm climate cites if possible , it's a huge unseen migration , and it works reverse when summer comes the move to more cooler climates , same person everyday for a year or more , is milking the spot , also , if you see this guy one day and a different peoples in the next , for extended portions of time they a milking a rotation so you don't notice , old people are the exception young people we move no city for to long , peircing example you have is bullshit being homeless dosent mean I have to remove stuff I've had for years of my life , that dosent even make sense , and here's a pro tip for you , skin to or tanning , really homeless people have a tan darker then your used to seeing and they get it before everyone else also do not fall for the I have a dog trick , they intentional get a dog to make you feel bad for the animal and give more or money for it , I had so many older ladies give me 50-100$ bills just for the dog , and we all know this trick so there's a heads up for you

  9. Before you give to any organization, research that organization. If they are local, GO VISIT THEM and witness their operation FIRST HAND. If they are really in it to help people in need, then THEY will be in need, too; in need of more volunteers, in need of more donations (of various kinds), in need, particularly, of YOUR expertise. Somehow I doubt that there is a doctoral program in helping the homeless, but there sure ought to be. Above all, DO NOT contribute to organizations whose executives can afford the newest and greatest for themselves, or whose executives own large estates, because what's going on there is that those executives are pocketing money that should be going to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless, NOT to satisfy those executives' personal pride. Take care in your donations, and don't go around just believing whatever is spouted about some organization. Do your own research, and get it right.

  10. Several years ago, we lived in Winchester and I was approached at a fuel station/convenience store by a fellow that I figure was very likely homeless asking me for money. He had the telltale signs (odor, old and ragged clothes, unshaven, etc.) I offered instead to buy him something to eat from the store. He initially tried to argue with me, saying he wanted the money instead. I looked at him and told him that I was not going to buy him alcohol or cigarettes, which I figure is what he wanted, but that I'd buy him a sandwich. He finally relented and told me he'd like a sandwich from the store. So, I went in and paid for my fuel and got a sandwich from their deli and brought it back to him (still waiting beside my vehicle.) I was rather taken aback that he looked at me and asked me if I'd spat in his sandwich, but I suppose not knowing what a person has experienced may lead to them being a bit skeptical of the intentions of others. Anyway, I assured him that I hadn't, gave him the sandwich, and went on my way. My guess is that he had a legitimate need, but it's always been my policy to give food or drink rather than money to panhandlers. I too prefer to not get scammed and I figure generosity is not only monetary.

  11. One of the big scams is they will hand you a card that reads: "Hi, my name is XXXXXX, and I am a deaf mute trying to make an honest living for my family. I carry my own cards. when I see one of these handed to me, I put a confused look on my face and then hand them one that says: "Hello. My name is XXXXXX, and I an illiterate. I cannot read or write. Would you please try to explain?" End of the scam rope with me. I move on.



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