While taking pictures with my wife at Plaza San Francisco in Quito a women approached me asking me if I could speak English. I said yeah and quickly added that I wasn’t local in case she was looking for directions. She continued that she is from South Africa and that her purse just got stolen moments ago and that she needs money to get a taxi to get back to her hostel near the airport. She said her bag of fried chicken was getting cold and lifted the bag to show me and said her son was waiting for her. Three dollars is what she needed to get her back to her hostel.
After this story my spider senses started kicking in that this was an obvious scam. I’ve encountered the “I’ve gotten robbed/lost my money/passport/magical carpet” scam in many countries before. But this time it was different. She was an older overweight lady that didn’t look like the typical male scammer that I’ve encountered before. According to wikitravel the area is known to be famous for purse-snatchers. And if you are going to scam people, why Quito, Ecuador and why not some country where you can ask for more than 3 dollars to get home?
But on the other hand, why would someone be so calm and focussed in telling their story and mention their fried chicken if their purse was just snatched? Also couldn’t she just take a taxi to the hostel and then get money from her room or her son?
But I only had seconds to decide and I went for a weak compromise. Figuring there was a chance her story was true then I did want to help her so I gave her a dollar. She went “Oh, Okay” and walked away not exactly filled to the brim with gratitude. My wife and I climbed up the stairs towards the church for a better view of what the woman would do next. Another flashpacking couple was next and they quickly moved on without giving any money the same as a family did after that. She then met three tourists of which the two ladies both gave her money after which the women walked to the road, got into the backseat of a regular car and drove off.
What happened? Did I get scammed or did I help a women get back to her hostel in order to enjoy some fried chicken with her son? I don’t know what happened but I would rather take the chance to get scammed then ignore somebody who genuinely might need some help.
Update: Two weeks later I was back in Quito again. I was sitting in a food court in a mall playing on my IPod as I was waiting for my wife to do some shopping. Somebody said” Excuse me, do you speak English?” As I looked up I immediately recognized the South African lady and she asked me what time it was. I told her “ We have met before”. She answered me that she didn’t understand and she just wanted to know the time and she immediately walked away. I guess in the end she was a scammer.