Tricks of the trade: con artists abound

In the morning rush on a typical weekday, Ian Maruziva (not his real name) almost bumps into a young lady who is covering her face as she bends forwards on a pavement.

He stops to ask what her problem is and she narrates her story:

“Brother, please help me. I am a maid in Borrowdale and was sent here by my employer to buy feed for his broilers. A man came and snatched my purse and fled. All the money that I was given – $100 – is gone. I don’t have a single cent and I don’t know how I will get back home.

“I am going to be sacked. I know my boss very well and he will think I used the money on other things. The guy went in that direction and he was wearing a red T-shirt. I can identify him,’’ she says, dashing off in pursuit of the thief. Maruziva cannot help but sympathise with her, so he grabs her hand and pleads with her to calm down.

“If you cannot help, please don’t bother, my brother. Can I use your phone to call my boss?” adds the woman. He digs into his pocket and hands her the phone, but the lady, pretending to be coming to her senses, tells him she does not know his number by heart. He asks her how best he can help, to which she mumbles that 50 cents for transport will do. But the gentleman is already won over, so he hands her $5 instead and the woman thanks him curtly and disappears. Then he realises that the young lady is just one of the teeming con artists who have descended on central Harare, feigning desperation to lure passers by to part with their money.

Exploitation

The majority of humankind has a soft spot for people in desperation, and con artists exploit that to get the extra dollar. At the end of the day, they make enough to beat a man or woman sweating in an office or factory for a modest salary.

A common method used by the cheats is to claim that they have lost their fare. They usually employ this during peak hours at bus termini, asking for a dollar or less. One lady who identified herself as Chipo to a commuter was not so lucky. While begging for transport money, a man she had just conned passed by and identified her, forcing her to flee.

Typically, these cheats are fast-talking and good actors who easily win the confidence of their victims. Some of them even come smartly dressed to give the impression that they are genuine, sometimes holding a current newspaper they would have stolen or begged from others.

“Women usually get attention from men and they usually take advantage of that,” said one resident.

Another method used by the tricksters is to feign illness, claiming they have just been discharged from hospital and have no money to catch a bus. In this group are men or women who actually move around with the aid of crutches or bandaged heads. They are also quick to show you an assortment of pills and medication as well as homemade patient records.

“I am not feeling well my brother. Look, these are my pills but I have to take them with food, so can you help me with money to buy a loaf of bread and a drink?” is what you often hear from a man called Oscar, a well-known con man in central Harare.

Never too old

Not even age deters the modern trickster. There are four women in their sixties who operate in Central Avenue. They move around claiming that they are coming from a funeral and need money to pay the kombi to Epworth. There was pandemonium recently on Fourth Street when a man people believed to be blind was caught counting his day’s takings in a public toilet.

Harare police spokesperson, Chief Inspector James Sabau discouraged people from trusting people asking for money. “We have these reports everyday of people who are being conned. People should not just give money to strangers,” he said.

Post published in: News

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