A man came up to me on the street. He asked for help. I attempted to help him. But I soon found that I fallen to victim to the Cape Town version of a “coming out” scam…or something like that.
“Coming Out” Scam In Cape Town
It was about 9:00pm and I had just finished dinner (at Nando’s) and was walking down Long Street in the CBD back to my hotel in Cape Town.
A man came up to me in a purple sweatshirt and jeans. 5’3″, skinny, and white. By the poor condition of his skin, I would say he was in his 40s, but looked much younger from a few feet away. He asked me if I had a moment then told me the following story.
“I just came out to my parents and they threw me out. My dad took my phone. I have nowhere to go and I’m hungry. Would you buy me some food?”
When I am in a position to do so, I do try to help people in need. I liked that he asked for food, so I agreed to buy him some groceries. The guy looked far too old to be “coming out” to his parents for the first time, but I understand that can be a traumatic experience and I will never turn down a request for food (versus “food” money).
There was a little grocery store a block away and we went in. He took a basket and begin filling it up with groceries. Milk. Cereal. Bread. Meat. Cheese. Then has asked, “Do you mind if I get some toiletries as well?”
So he added a toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, shaving cream.
Finally, he took his basket, now filled, to the front of the store. And then reality set in.
Behind the counter were electronic items.
He pointed to a some fancy headphones and looked back at me with puppy eyes.
“Do you think I could have these for my phone?”
I responded, “For what? You said your dad took your mobile phone and you have no phone.”
His response was classic.
I said “oh” as well and headed right out the door, leaving him at the counter with a basket full of groceries.
He ran out and apologized.
“I’m so sorry. How about if I just take the headphones and no groceries?”
And then things turned even weirder.
While he was selecting his groceries we had engaged in small talk. I told him I was an American (the accent was obvious enough) and visiting from Los Angeles.
He then asked to come back to my hotel with me.
I shook my head, wished him a good evening, and began walking briskly toward my hotel.
He followed me, kept up with me, and continued to engage in talk.
His tone sank into desperation and he made all sorts of sexual propositions.
I showed him my wedding ring, told him I prefer women, and tried to keep walking while ignoring him.
He made more comments, many of them obscene.
It’s not that I was afraid of him. After all, he was nearly a foot shorter than me and did not appear to weigh more than 110 pounds. But it was extremely uncomfortable.
Finally, we reached my hotel. He was continuing to follow me and as I entered, I told two guards at the front door that this man was harassing me. I did not even look back to see what happened, but I was thankful to be back in the lobby.
I wish I was more generous, but I will help you if you tell me you are hungry and need food. This guy could have scored a basket full of groceries for free, but had to be greedy enough for the headphones. It seems that is all he wanted in the first place. On a more serious note, this is a horrible scam because this sort of banishment does happen to young people who come out. To misappropriate that for some headphones or groceries is truly despicable.
Have you ever fallen prey to a similar scam?
This story is part of my An African Adventure As The World Shut Down trip report.