Rune rumination

George: I am not giving you my code.
Kramer: I'll bet I can guess it. Let's see... Well, we can throw out birthdays immediately. That's too obvious. And no numbers for you. You're a word man. Let's go deeper... What kind of man are you? Well, you're weak, spineless, a man of temptations. But what tempts you? You're a portly fellow. A bit long in the waistband. So what's your pleasure? Is it the salty snacks you crave? No no no no... Yours is a sweet tooth. Oh, you may stray, but you'll always return to your dark master... The cocoa bean! And only the purest syrup nectar can satisfy you. If you could, you'd guzzle it by the gallon... Ovaltine!? Hershey's!? Nestle's Quick!?"
- Seinfeld, The Secret Code

BCer Oli writes:

A woman called round a friend's house on Florence Road in a state of (seemingly) genuine distress, clutching a electricity top-up stick saying that she 'lived at number X' and that she was home alone with her three kids and no cash and her husband was out until later; that the electricity meter has unexpectedly run out, and would they mind awfully lending her a small amount of money that she would return as soon as her husband was home (I think you can see where this is going).

My friend, drawn in her by her remarkable acting skills (nor did she have any visible signs of addiction problems or homelessness that might have raised a suspicion of genuineness) invited her in, introduced her to his partner, and told her to sit down whilst he gave her ten pounds. Of course she didn't come back, and no one had ever heard of her at the address she claimed to live at.

But this is where it gets really weird... my friend called the police and they told him to check the outside of their house, and that there might be a symbol chalked on the wall. Sure enough there was a discrete rectangle daubed by the front door. Apparently it's one of a set of signs made for others in the gang, though the police don't know what each one means – anything from 'don't target this house again' to ' there's a nice big telly in here to come back later for'.

They didn't care about the ten pounds, but were understandably freaked by the signalling. Has anyone experienced something similar?


Anonymous said...

Leaving signs outside houses is an old gypsy trait.

Anonymous said...

Nice try, Ladywell dogwhistler

Mb said...

I got scammed silly by someone and her elderly "gran" at Waterloo. Gave them cash for a train tickets...... Felt like a right dick. The signage would proper freek me out.

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience, minus the markings (I think, although I never looked!), when I lived in Vauxhall a few years ago. I didn't give her any cash as something just seemed a bit off, plus I had never seen her before despite knowing most of my neighbours on a small street, at least by sight.
I've mentioned it to people since and quite a few have had it happen to them too.

Anonymous said...

Hoek said...

Isn't this the film Kill List?

Brockley Flogging Society said...

Anyone wishing to receive the mark of cane should report to the adult gym on Hilly Fields at 10pm.

Wild Bill said...

Such an obvious scam. It's a shame it's always nice people who fall for these things (makes me grateful for heartless nature).

Only solution for the markings issue is to go and leave the same marking on all the other houses in your local area.

Anonymous said...

Yes, entrance to my flat was marked, but has since worn away.

Mb said...

....although the performance was Oscar winning. I could afford it so only my pride was dented. If the victim was elderly and on limited means it would be less amusing.

Lep Recorn said...

Whilst it is not nice to get scammed. I do think that I would prefer to get scammed a few times in my life (and I have been) than to not offer assistance when asked. The person asking could be genuine and could someday be your desperate son or daughter asking a stranger.

A scammer will try to pressure you into making a quick decision and will not allow you time to pause and reflect. Someone making a genuine request would allow you that time.

Wild Bill said...

Oddly enough I was just sat in a park near London Bridge on my lunch break when a lady came up to me with the same story (electricity key).


Anonymous said...

Victim of exact same scam in early 2007 (just after having moved to the area).

Lady (apparently from 2 doors down), had no money and husband was not back from work yet. We were quite sceptical but i) she seemed desperate and said she had a two month old child ii) we had met our next door neighbours but none beyond that so it could have been true iii) would rather lose a fiver with a clear conscience than be stingy and think there was someone sitting in a dark, cold house.

She never came back, i don't recall any markings but didn't look. we were pretty sure it was a scam but knocked on to our neighbours the next day and it was not the same lady.

No different really to someone telling you they need busfare when they really want money for something else. just closer to home.

chalk it down to experience.

david said...

Around Honor Oak Park and Crofton Park there used to be an hysterical woman in the street wailing that she needed money to buy baby formula. I'm normally in the give-to-be-on-the-safe-side camp, but I saw her so many times over so many years that her baby must have nearly been old enough to buy fags let alone need forumula!

The chalk markings is pretty scary, though. Having been burgled I'm a bit twitchy about those sorts of things. Hope it doesn't make more distrustful

T's and C's said...

This scam cropped up in Brockley about 3-4 years ago, except the story was that the young lady (scammer) desp needed cash to get to her sisters place of work, as she had locked herself out and it was (literally) freezing. She figured about £5 would cover the mini cab fare. My husband, ever suspicious, offered to call the sister's place of work so that the scammer could let her know of the predicament and come to her rescue with a set of keys. Not surprisingly said scammer was not interested in this and got flustered, eventually leaving.

Unfort before she was caught she ripped off quite a few people - including an elederly Brockley lady who gave her £20 (possibly more, I can't recall exactly). The scammer was eventually caught by the Police and given an ASBO. Broc Soc ran an article on it at the time to try and raise awareness.

Anonymous said...

Dishonest fayre.

Anonymous said...

Just say no.

Tamsin said...

No - as some of the others have said, if you can afford it, I rather feel it is worth the risk or you might othewise be turning away the genuinely desperate. (Over 20 years ago now but there was a tragedy in Jerningham Road where the electric meter ran out, the mother went off to get some money leaving her young children with candles - I know, I know... - and in the resulting housefire they died.) If you can think fast enough I like the notion of offering the genuine assistance, like ringing the alleged sister or a spare carton of formula. Or, borrowing between neighbours who hardly know each other, there's the notion of surety. A few years back someone new moving in opposite wanted to borrow an electric drill, and totally unasked for offered his watch as hostage for its return.

Anonymous said...

It's heartwarming to see that some people have a sufficiently strong sense of civic responsibility to suggest always erring on the side of generosity even when in doubt, lest something terrible happen. Personally, if I were even the slightest bit suspicious, it would be a no.

Anonymous said...

For those of you who would have donated, I know a very wealthy Nigerian businessman who needs your help!

Anonymous said...

That baby milk lady's been doing the rounds for years. She was away for a bit (I'm assuming prison), but has been back again lately.
Thing is she's so obviously a crackhead I can't believe the baby milk thing ever works.
She also offers to suck you off for cash.

Anonymous said...

Did she have a scar on her face? A woman tried it- couple of years ago with me, claiming she'd left her defrosting shopping in the hall then gone out to get more when the door slammed. She asked for ten quid to get a taxi to her sisters for spare key. When I offered to pich her front door lock shegotvague as to the address, then scarpered when I threatened to call the police? I read a description of a local con woman (which matched her) who beat up an old lady subsequently, but Inever saw her again.

Anonymous said...

I don't live in Ladywell, and I only whistle my dog. You might think its rubbish about gypsies and marks outside houses, but the police don't.
My mum told me about this 40 years ago, and it happens in the States where hobos use a code to help there fellow tramps. Get real, there are bad people out there, some of them are travellers.

Anonymous said...

Brockley has its share of confidence tricksters.

The lady in tears asking for milk for her baby was Vanessa, a crack addict. No baby, but she could summon up tears on demand. She operated around Brockley, Crofton Park and Hither Green. She was eventually ASBoed but she hasn't been seen for a couple of years. But she was a regular sight. People used to call her 'Baby milk' and you would often see her pleading with passersby.

The one that used to knock on doors or strike up conversation with people on Hilly Fields or in the street was Pamela Fay. Pamela was a quite an actress. She would say she was accidentally locked out of her flat on Thyritt Rd, could she please borrow the cab fare to Bexley to get a spare set of keys from her sister.

Pamela was prolific, she conned huge numbers of people including myself. Lewisham police refused to record the incidents as crimes. They said 'she borrowed the money and might give it back' and the crime reporting supervisor said it is definitely not a crime. She was a complete menace until she eventually got caught. She was sent down for a couple of years in Holloway. She might be out by now.

Here she is, not looking particularly happy with herself.

I have noticed that reactions to confidence tricksters like these fall into different camps.

These cons are based around emotional appeal to help a vulnerable person in distress.

Some people make it a rule never to help anyone who makes such appeals.

Others are more empathic and think of themselves in the same situation and so help willingly.

Between these are those who consider themselves wise enough to work out whether the story is genuine and have little sympathy for those who are conned.

These sort of crimes seem low level, but they have a very corrosive effect on communities.

People become distrustful and when someone really is in trouble and needs help, they ignore or avoid any interaction.

Anyone genuinely locked out or having some sort of crisis would find many people they approach rude and disbelieving, thinking that they are just another crack addict pulling a confidence trick.

In this present case, where marks are made outside peoples flats, perhaps indicating a return visit. This makes people very fearful.

Though Lewisham Police desk seem pretty useless at this sort of thing, the local safer neighbourhoods team usually know all about these characters. It is worth having a chat with them.

Ez said...

Some advice from one who has experienced a couple of unsuccessful doorstep scam attempts, not to mention numerous encounters with the baby milk lady.

1) Take a photo of the scammer (a genuine person should not object).

2) If they say they live at no. X, ask for the colour of the front door and then visit the place with them.

3) Never let them into your home.

The last scammer I had failed the door test, shrugged and walked off.

If you think it's okay to just pay up because it might be genuine (it won't be) you will encourage the scammer.

Anonymous said...

>clutching a electricity top-up stick saying

Not even a good story. Why not take the kids to the park for a bit?

Anonymous said...

The reason the baby milk woman keeps asking is because every house she knocks on in the conservation area all she gets offered is soy milk.

Tamsin said...

@ Anon 18.12 - Too cold, too dark, too feckless, too many kids. It has happened with tragic consequences.

Minder said...

I had this a few years ago. A girl knocked on the door, said she lived on my road, I can't remember what she wanted, I think she asked if you could use my phone as she had locked herself out of her house. I didn't recognise her and asked what number she lived at. She said '125' and pointed down the road. When I pointed out that number 125 was up the road, she just walked off, swearing at me. Can't think why.

JP said...

This one has a similar MO to a woman who pulled the wool over my old neighbour's eyes some years back. (She has since died.)

My sympathies were drawn towards my neighbour, who at 86 with Altzeimers had no chance.

She relieved her of £50 that she had just taken from the bank for her own groceries.

I manage to dupe this scammer on her later return to my neighbour as I was on the lookout.

She got nicked. She was actually on the most wanted list. She went down for a couple of years but is now probably out.

The symbol may have been left by Scumbag, not because she is a Gypsy - I don't know or care - but because she was so often off her head that she couldn't remember who she had in fact duped. She has probably simply altered her MO.

After all I caught her on her return visit to my neighbour.

I have heard of that Gypsy claim though. But if it's her then she possibly marked the property in order to avoid it.

Her name by the way was published quite widely at the time - along with a picture which may assist.

JP said...

Sorry, two amendments:

My neighbour was 89 at the time, and it was on the third visit that I had 'Pamela' nicked.

JP said...


Ez said...

>A girl knocked on the door, said she lived on my road

Yup, had her too. Made her wait on the doorstep while I got the cordless for her. Amazingly, her 'friend' wasn't in.

Mobiles have killed off that scam. Don't let them in.

Littlest Hobo said...

There was an episode of Mad Men with the hobo code in it, the marks referred to whether you were nice or not. In terms of this incident the marks will basically mean that you have been duped and so telling others to come and have a go.

drakefell debaser said...

I saw the woman you refer to as 'Baby Milk' by the Co-op on St Norbert Rd earlier this year. I was riding home from work and she ran into the road screaming about her baby. I had my doubts, but then my other half saw her a few weeks later and she tried to prove she had a baby by squeezing milk out of her breasts, so unfortunatley there is / was some truth to her claim and I hope that child is being looked after.

Anonymous said...

"Baby milk" lady accosted me late one evening outside the large Sainsburys in Sydenham/Bell Green a few weeks ago. She said she needed money to spend on formula milk for her baby. I was tired but initially felt sorry for her as she looked so desperate. However, when I offered to go back inside the store to buy her the formula milk she became aggressive, threatened me and scarpered! It still preyed on my mind afterwards and until I read this blog I had wondered if I'd done the right thing... n

Anonymous said...

A guy (around 6'3"m dark hair, swarthy/tanned, dressed normally ie did not look destitute) approached me yesterday around CP station. He was carrying a bag and claimed to need money to get to Sevenoaks station as his motorbike had a puncture (showed helmet in bag). I said no as I had no change (true but i didn't believe him).

A few weekends ago a guy came around asking if we wanted windowcleaning done. He claimed to be working at Goldsmiths and volunteered that he was exhausted by their requirements. When I asked when the work would occur if he were at the College all day, he said by Tuesday. I said I would speak to my husband, largely as a test. (They prefer dealing with women apparently). Ran off.

Cil said...

How mortifying if you'd invited her in and then found the chalked symbol outside for 'Don't bother with this place, it's full of c***'.

Anonymous said...

I was invited round someone's house and was offered a vegetarian meal. Perhaps I should put a big letter "M" on their artisan brickwork.

Minder said...

Anon 21.23, your story has just reminded me of a similar one - I was approached just by St Johns station by a very well dressed, polite man who said he had dropped his wallet on the train / it had been nicked (can't remember which). He was quite convincing but I was still suspicious. I had my young child with me and there was nobody else around.

Anonymous said...

I had somebody knock on my door a couple of months ago and ask if she could use my phone to call her parents and let them know she'd arrived home okay. (She said that she lived down the road, had left her phone somewhere and all her housemates were out.) She seemed genuine to me, was quite young and probably a student, so I let her use my phone (two minute call) and then she left. I didn't think this was a bad thing to do, but beginning to wonder!

Mb said...

Ooohhh.. I've got a good one.

Few months ago at 9ish pm a bloke mocks on the door. Well spoken with a French accent, says he's got no where to stay tonight and can he kip at mine.

Half an hour later he's back saying he's lost his wallet and can he borrow some money....or sleep at mine.

Erm, no again. OK he said, sorry to disturb you and off he went.

Called the police, not that it was threatening as such but in case he was disturbed. Guess they can't nick someone for asking to stay so not sure they followed it up.

Caution said...

Though I sympathise with the thoughts of those who'd rather be scammed than stingy, I think that the two points about the reaches and corrosion of this are important:

These people make many of us suspicious and less likely to help those in genuine need (reminds me of the guy on the trains needing 'money for a hostel' who had 'just arrived from Scotland' every day for years. At the time I was working with homeless teens and the effect he might have on trust and giving disgusted me).

The 'marking the house' aspect is disturbing, and whatever its purpose, and given that we don't know (which makes it scarier), this is really unpleasant and threatening.

I see both of these points as consequences of the scamming behavior mentioned originally, and similar, and think that's why a more cautious, 'checking out the story' approach should be taken, using strategies such as those suggested above. Yes, you don't want to be the kind of person who refuses those in need - but there are wider implications to giving indiscriminately to these people - such as their being rewarded for the behavior and continuing it, with these unacceptable consequences.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Caution above.

They only keep doing it because it works. If people doubted them and checked out the stories they'd stop.

Though having said that, if people want to keep giving them money, it stops them having to come up with another way of getting money, which may have to be a whole lot more unpleasant for the mark, than being conned by a story.

Lady in the Well said...

My husband found a wallet on ladywell station platform with £180 cash in it. We contacted the owner and gave it back so that may have belonged to the polite man at St Johns.

pippi said...

A few years ago I gave £20 to a bloke at a motorway service station in Scotland who said he and his girlfriend didn't have enough petrol/cash to get home to London. I gave him my address to return the cash to - four months later when I'd completely forgotten about it a £20 note and an apologetic letter arrived.

I've met the Brockley doorstep scammer too - unfortunately for her she claimed to be living at a house number where some friends of mine live. When I pointed this out she claimed rather feebly to be staying with them, but gave up when I asked her what their names were.

Bea said...

That was exactly what happened to me back in 2008, 2 days after I moved in a flat in Kneller Road... and I also gave the woman a tenner...

a disgrace.

lady in the well said...

The first time I met baby milk woman I gave her money which I instantly regretted as she followed me down the street begging for more.

The next 50 or so times I ignored her then she seemed to disappear.

Her story doesn't make sense, where is her mystery baby? Surely she would get more money by taking it out begging with her. And why does she need formula if she can squirt milk from her breasts at the drop of a hat?

Tamsin said...

The last point did occur to me as well. An earlier anon. had the answer - offer to go into the shop with people like this and buy some formula. Sort the scammers from the genuine before you give.

Anonymous said...

I emailed Nick about a similar scam to these two weeks ago but he didn't reply or start thread about it. I assumed it was because it wasn't about the opening of a gastro pub or some funky art student event.

Anyway. My elderly neighbour in Manor Avenue was approached by someone who said he lived two doors away (he didn't) and asked for change for a locksmith. He then looked in wallet and said he had to go home and come back with the money. Which he didn't.

I think Brockley Central is the ideal place to report these kind of scams. As has already been noted, if you give money to someone willingly I guess it's not viewed in the same light a something like mugging. But, the angry and insecure feeling stays with you for a very long time afterwards. It's not a serious cime as far as the law is concerned, but can seriously undermine trust and community. My neighbour has not left her house since. She is frightened and embarrassed.

Perhaps you can make sure you do always respond to these reports Nick ?

Brockley Nick said...

@Anon - I don't recall such an email. It's possible I was busy and missed it or didn't have time to run it or perhaps your email never got through. Whatever happened, we have a method for you to issue such alerts yourself - it's our forum

You can post whatever you like there and as you'll see, I often link to or tweet interesting or important posts.

Brockley Dogging Society - Brockley Central Outreach Group said...

Local man starts blog because he thinks it will be fun, useful and interesting. Not getting paid, not looking for praise. The blog seems to attact interest and the readership soars. Now locals BLAME local man for not covering every local incident, finding interesting what THEY find interesting or not reacting quickly enough to their demands.

Nick, you're to polite to tell them to go spin so we will. Go spin.

(PS, you've not publicised our annual Halloween Parade. Colin has an amazing idea, it involves a ripe pumpkin)

Anonymous said...

They usually anticipate responses like that. Offering to go with Pamela to a taxi office was met with a tale about how she only trusted one cabbie that she knew to be trustworthy. As a woman she had had bad experiences with mincab drivers in the past.

Vanessa has been playing the babymilk trick for years now. The baby (if it ever existed) is probably at junior school by now.

Its funny, the local blogs in other areas have similar tales. London gives wides scope for these 'short con' artists to move from area to area.

Local blogs could play an important role in making people aware of such dangers.

Anonymous said...

Interesting how local people are chortling to themselves at having stopped what they consider to be a dastardly act whilst ignoring the fact that these people are probably very poor or homeless.

Still - on with the munging!

Caro said...

Er, so we should condone theft and fraud so long as it's done by poor people?

I think you need a new moral compass. The one you've got is broken.

david said...

@anon2245, nothing funny about any of this - least of all the reasons behibd why people seek to scam money of others- and no-one's really laughing. My comment about the baby being old enough to buy fags was glib but not meant as a slight on the rationale, just the repetitive nature of the blag. That said, being poor or homeless isn't an excuse to con others.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of people who are poor but are honest, decent folk. Homelessness is also simply and unfortunate circumstance, it has no direct bearing on character.

These confidence tricksters are driven not by poverty but by serious drug addiction that requires lots of cash.

They are crack addicts and they steal from people using fraud.

Pamela certainly was not homeless, why she said as much herself, and she certainly did not look as if she slept on the streets. She was quite successful at what she did and could certainly have found a decent job.

Vanessa, is clearly rather less cunning, resorting to hysterical street performances. I think she runs straight around to her dealer every time she gets £20 from some poor commuter taken in by her acting.

These people do damage to others, they are thieves and criminals perpetrating a fraud. Pamela, particularly, tries to get into peoples homes. She often makes return visits if she thinks there is more easy money to be had.

There are a lot of very decent people out there who are quite keen to help others who seem to be in trouble. It is very gratifying to know that they exist in this city. The effects of being conned like this can make people fearful, distrusting and paranoid. Fear of crime can have a very bad effect on sensitive people.

Society has to be protected from these bad characters and the damage they do.

I would urge anyone who comes across this sort of thing to report it immediately.

Have chat with the local police Safer Neighbourhood team who know the area well.

You can also report it here.

One hopes little flags will get placed on a map somewhere and the authorities will be on the case.

Vanessa said...

No I never!

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago a nicely dressed and nicely spoken woman asked to borrow my phone to call her husband, who was on his way with the children. I declined to oblige, despite my 5 year old son demanding to know why at the top of his voice.

I did give a couple of quid to a bloke outside Budgens, who couldn't get home for some reason or other. I saw him a few days later on the same con.

And the baby milk woman,used to ask for money for nappies. Fortunately at the time I young children so had a couple with me. She declined.

Anonymous said...

Addiction is a life long and for many irresistable diisease, I don't advocate giving fraudsters money to feed their addiction but in these cases where one recognises the protagonist's situation my feeling is one of, well, there but for the grace of god go I. I don't have the answers but I wish someone did.

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