Saturday, March 11, 2017

Panhandling Scam Hurts Everyone Except Them

Part of this group is to identify those in true need vs. those that are scamming people. Roanoke has seen a HUGE increase in begging on street corners, shopping districts like Towers and Cave Spring, Tangelwood and Valley View and panhandling has increased several fold within the last 16 months. Roanoke is a simple, small city however we as a community need to band together and face the issues that are literally staring us in the face as you come to a stop in your vehicle rather than ignore them. 

The problem is very simple:

How can we help those in need without knowing if what YOU are doing is helping?

Well, I want to let you know that panhandlers here in our area are not all in need of help. Many of them, nearly 6 in 10 according to the 2016 HUD area report are not homeless, have amenities like cars, smart phones, internet access, cable TV and bank accounts with amounts that would make your head spin if you knew how much money those 60% were making each week. 

Now, that leaves about 40% of the panhandlers that are truly in some sort of need, THOSE are the ones that I want to help, thus starting this website/ FB Group. 

BUT, are the roughly 60% that are scamming really doing harm? How can we as a community tell them apart, the real vs. fake?
Think about it like this. Put yourself in the needy persons shoes for a minute. Say you were really in need b/c of whatever circumstance, so you decide to stand there with a sign. 

That's not illegal to stand there with a sign btw, but more on that in another post.

Now, lets say another person up the road from you is doing the same but they do it for their rent payment or car, bills, to pay for a drug habit or the like.

I'm driving down the road and I see that first person and b/c of the sign I feel for them so I give them a couple bucks or whatever I have in my pocket. I would feel pretty good about helping them out and I go on my merry way. 

Then, after a couple of miles, I see you, the person in real need

But, I already gave some cash to the other person so I pass you. The light turns green and off I go onto my business.

That doesn't HELP you,  the real person in need, that helps the scammer who will make their rounds throughout the city and return week after week, month after month, year after year. 

The scammer does a double scam, one on the driver, another on that person that really needs help.
That panhandler scammed me out of a few bucks because of a sign they had up, tugging at my heart strings in believing that what I am doing will make a difference. And, honestly, it does- into their bank for their lifestyle, their drug or alcohol habit, rent, utility payments or whatever.   

The second part of the scam effects you, that person who could really use help. How so you ask? Because they are getting to the driver before you are, so the needy person doesn't get help, they get less because of the scam.  

And actually there is a third part of the scam, taxes. The money that you give was somehow taxed by you, in the form of federal or state income at some point. The cash you give doesn't get declared, why would it? They are living a tax free lifestyle, on your dime, but more on money in a bit.

How the Panhandling Scam Works

The scam is pretty simple. An advanced panhandler has several locations they will typically go to on a regular basis. One is more like a group leader and will often times coordinate whom will be where each day. They usually stick to a weekly schedule for those locations and they tend to pick areas that are populated with lots of traffic, usually at a stop sign or stop light where cars get backed up. You will not find them standing there for hours on end, usually 1-3 is normal, then they move up the street to the next spot. Those that don't or can't drive take the bus and stick to bus routed traffic, otherwise they drive or have someone drive them to the locations. 

If they do have someone with them, they are usually a lookout for the police, using smartphones, sometimes earpieces in order to communicate. Here in Roanoke we have a couple of groups that have 2-4 people each that panhandle on a regular and they tend to get caught less as well. The lookout, sometimes is waiting in the car watching or sometimes they are up the street sitting at a bench or storefront watching. 

If the scammer doesn't make any money within the first hour, they will call out to get picked up or head up to the next spot on their list for the day. Our group has encountered the same person literally in four areas of Roanoke within one day. Usually after a small group has exhausted themselves in an area they will move on to another close city. 

Typically in the US the average time a panhandler stays in a city is about 3.4 years before moving to another one, although sometimes they come back between them every few years. This is so you will "forget" about them in the back of your head; it's also why they move around daily within Roanoke to maximize their profits.

Tugging at the Heart

A long time ago when I worked in broadcasting and Hollywood, I was taught that successful marketing comes in two forms. In order for a company to reach you through a medium, they need to tug at your heart or tug at your wallet. Tugging at your wallet is like seeing something on sale in a store or on TV, tugging at your heart is the emotional connection someone makes so you feel obligated to give. The scamming panhandler will use the second method to get to the first, tug at your heart. 

If YOU feel sorry for them, YOU will give them cash.

Scammers will typically dress in dirty clothes in order to appear down on their luck, but there are always signs that can tell if they are in need, something I talked about in another article. These subtle clues can help you recognize fake panhandlers from real ones.

The signs can speak for themselves. For example, here in Roanoke you can find signs that can read: 

  • "Homeless, Please Help, God Bless!"
  • "I have stage 4 Cancer, Please Help"
  • "Layoff and Need Help, Please Donate"
  • "No Work, No Gas, No Food, Help"
  • "Down on My Luck, Help"
  • "Lost my Job, Donate"
  • "Homeless Vet, Please help me"
The list literally goes onward, but these are phrases that you can find right here in Roanoke. In all cases of a scammer, the signs are complete lies. By using the stoplight or stop sign, they stand there looking at you with a sign. They want YOU to read it so you will feel sorry for them. It's called a hook and it often works if you are a humble person that wants to help others. 

They often take the same sign with them throughout the day at the spots they frequent and a few of them have other signs that they swap out depending on the time of year. There is even one panhandler here in the Valley that has used puppies and a Santa hat in order to get people to feel sorry for them, she would stand at the Valley View blvd and Hershberger exit near the airport. 


So, how MUCH does a typical panhandler make by standing there full-time, day after day, month after month, year after year? 

Honestly, it's somewhat hard to say, but through some national research we have been able to adjust some numbers for our region, some panhandlers, specifically the aggressive ones that use small groups of people to work together can make somewhere in the neighborhood of $20-$100 per hour, depending on the sign, time of day, location and the like. If a typical full time panhandler works 4 hours a day, with a couple of hours with moving about throughout the city (that's six hours a day average) We estimate they could make $80-$400 per day. 

IF they worked 5 days a week that translates into $400 per week on the low end to $2,000 on the high end here in Roanoke. 

So that's $1,600 to $8,000 per month, every single penny, TAX FREE

Panhandling in Roanoke could bring in just under $20,000 to $96,000, more in much larger areas like NOVA or Tidewater. That is YOUR money that YOU paid taxes on from working, they use YOU in order to pay that tax. If you can make that kind of money, you're able to work and PAY TAXES just like the rest of the community.


Location is key here in Roanoke and there are several spots too believe it or not. We have complied an ongoing list on our panhandling map page. Some of these key spots include: 

460 and King St.
460 & Cloverdale Rd. 
Elm Ave Intersection 581/220
Airport Ramp Area
Hershberger and Crossroads Area
Peters Creek & Melrose Ave. 
Tanglewood Mall North Exit Ramp
Tanglewood Mall South Exit Ramp
460 Near Southern Classic Auto Wash
Williamson Rd & Peters Creek
Valley View Target/Movie Theater 
Valley View near Chick-fil-A
460 Bonsack Kroger
Towers Mall/ 220 Exit Ramp
Exit 150 I-81

And there are others too, not as popular and they don't make as much money. I encourage you to click the map to see where they like to frequent here in the our area.

What It Boils Down To


They want it, you have it. If Roanoke wants to STOP THE PANHANDLING, STOP HANDING OUT CASH.

If you truly want to help, give other things like blessing bags, bottles of water, inexpensive fast food gift cards for $5 or $10, blessing bags, blankets, flyers with information about jobs or this group, contact several of the organizations here and report a panhandler, contact the police if you see them aggressively panhandle (some do) or donate your time at one of these places.

Whatever you choose, if you want to help, DO NOT GIVE THEM CASH.

Our mission is to do the following:

#1. To help identify those in real need and to offer help but NOT give cash. 
#2. To educate the public about panhandling, how BEST to deal with it as a community, how we can get people off the streets and back into society. 
#3. To point out those that scam and only help themselves and continue to hurt the situation at hand.


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