Short panhandler story follows...
The weekend before Christmas last year, I was driving home from my mom's open house and stopped at a red light. A middle-aged woman in a weathered coat motioned for my attention and mouthed "Do you know the time?" Normally I would ignore anyone I didn't know like this, but it was Christmas time and this seemed like an easy enough question to answer. I figured she was trying to catch a bus.
I rolled down the window and gave her the time, then she asked if I could drop her off at a church about a mile up the road. I was going that way anyway and it was still Christmas time, so I decided I would. But once she was in the car and we were going, she launched into a well-memorized spiel about how her father had died and she needed $127 bus fare to get to the funeral. So, that's when I realized this was all a scam. Kudos to her for working out a good system - starting conversation with a simple ask, then escalating with something still pretty easy that got her in the car, and only once she was there asking for money.
We got to the church and she immediately proclaimed that the people she was going to meet there weren't around, and asked me to drive her to a nearby gas station. So I did. When I got there and parked I said politely, "I'm going to give you $20, which is all the money I have on me, but I need you to get out of the car first." You would have thought she was an Olympic sprinter with how fast she was up and out. I handed her the cash, she made one more mention of an ATM machine in the gas station, I said goodbye and she turned and walked off without another word.
I felt like a bit of a dupe for a bit. But in the end, it was still Christmas. And I figured, would I want to switch lives with her just to be the duper instead of the dupee? No, not at all. I'm very lucky to have the life I do, and I can spare $20 from time to time.
Though I wouldn't actually do it again.