The professional beggars appear to have returned

Small-time con artists are alive and well despite hard economic times.

To scam money from tourists it helps to sound like you came from New Yuork or Chaagago. Plus you need a sad story.

One fellow who patrols the streets near Hospital Calderón Guardia sounds like a U.S. citizen. He says he is. He said he is from New York and came to Costa Rica to buy property in Tamarindo. It just so happened his friend lives in San José and on his way from the friend’s house to his hotel his taxi driver stole all his belongings, including suitcase and passport. He is left penniless and has to get to the American Embassy to report his unfortunate dilemma. He needs just a little cash.

This poor man had his luggage stolen twice in three days, if encounters with reporters are any guide. First he approached a woman after dark with the sad story. Two days later he approached a Costa Rican woman with the same tale. He showed bilingual skills. He also is creative. He approached a male reporter with the claim that he had a bad leg and needed bus fare. After being refused, he strode away quickly.

There was a wave of such scams several years ago, but the scamsters vanished for some time. Now they are back. Police said that there is a group, and the members live out of town and just patrol the streets during the day and evening.

When one of these scammers is rejected in his quest for cash, he asks why nobody wants to help him. He then cites his “ugliness” as a reason why no one want’s to give him a moment of their time. Then he asks if he is ugly. He deserves an honorary degree in psychology.

Depending on the circumstances, a little intimidation is applied. A defenseless woman after dark on an ill-lighted street is a good target for a handout and perhaps something more. Some encounters with beggars have ended up as robberies in the past.

A local television station once featured a poor crippled man who sought money at a busy intersection. When rush hour passed, the man was cured miraculously, got in his nearby car, stopped at the liquor store and went to his middle-class home. And there is no income tax.

There is something refreshing about a beggar who is not a scammer. One approached two reporters near a downtown bar and said “If you give me money, I am going to spend it on booze.”

Now that is a great line.

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