I have to give her credit, she told a great story. Before my son and I realized she scammed us, we felt pretty good about ourselves.
We were enjoying a nice father-son walk around the neighbourhood. Came across a woman near the end of our street. She was hard at work, chipping away ice on her driveway.
A bit rough around the edges, her face had that weathered look, like she's smoked one too many cigarettes.
"Shouldn't you be in school?" she asked my son, smiling, missing half her teeth.
"He's sick today," I replied. "Had a bit of fever, just getting some fresh air."
"You like spending time with your dad?" she asked.
"Yeah," my son smiled.
More small talk, the thing that neighbours do, commenting on the weather, trivial stuff.
Turns out she wasn't a neighbour. We didn't find out until after she got our money.
Her name was Lisa. We thought we did a good thing helping her out.
A savvy con artist will gain your trust. Give you compliments, find some common ground to establish an emotional connection.
"You're such a friendly person," she said. "And your son's a nice boy." Compliment. Appealed to my vanity.
The conversation steered toward family. "You have any kids?" I asked.
"I got five kids," she said. Parenting. Common ground. That was her cue.
After you've been ripped off, you analyze the encounter like a detective. Find holes in the scammer's story. You wonder why you didn't listen to your bullshit detector.
A couple things seemed odd, but like they say, hindsight's twenty-twenty.
When it's a good con, you don't feel pressure to give. Lisa wanted to work for her money.
"Sorry, I don't look too nice," she said. "I'm missing some of my teeth."
"That's okay, I'm missing two teeth," I said, showing off my smile.
"I lost mine in a car accident."
"Oh, sorry to hear," I said. "But you're okay now?"
She said her husband died recently, leaving her to raise five children. By then, we established a little connection. Appealed to my empathy. My son listened carefully.
"One day I was walking down the street, minding my own business," she said, "and a car jumped the curb. Took me out—drunk driver."
"Holy shit," I said. Did they catch the guy?" She spun a yarn about a bystander catching the car's license plate number. The cops got their man.
"My legs were broken, I was in so much pain. But I gotta support my family. That's why I'm out here shovelling driveways."
"So, do you live around here?"
"I used to live in this house, but after my husband died, I couldn't afford it, so we moved out by Burma Street, in the co-op."
Hmm, that's funny, I thought. "I don't remember ever seeing you. I walk down this street all the time."
"Oh—I think I know your husband!" my boy said. "Dad—remember that day the bus ran over the squirrel, and I told you a man helped us shovel it off the road?"
"Yeah, that was my husband," Lisa said, "always helping people." She deflected my doubt with her quick-witted save. "I sold the house to a friend at work, and she lets me do jobs for her." She pointed to the ice she scraped off the laneway. "By the grace of God, I'm still livin' and supporting my daughters."
She asked if she could do some work for me. "I'm a good Christian, I'm not lookin' for a handout," she said, "I believe in earnin' my money."
I looked at my son. My wife and I have always encouraged our kids to help people. To think of others, not be selfish.
"Well, whaddya think?" I asked. We nodded, smiled. "Sure! We just live around the corner."
"Bless you, you're good people."
We examined the sheet of compacted snow and ice on my driveway. Used to pride myself on keeping it clean, down to the asphalt. This year my standards have lowered, with my wife and me both working full time.
"If you can get a path goin' from the walkway out to the car, that'd be great, Lisa," I said. "We'll be inside, just knock when you're done." She got to work.
My boy and I went in. "Dad," he said, "I wanna give her money. I can give her fifteen bucks from the money A-Kong gave me." I was touched by his generosity.
"Wow, that's really nice. Are you sure? You don't have to. I'll give her the money."
"Yeah, I’m sure." Good boy.
"That's pretty crazy what she's been through, hey?" I said. "Seems a bit weird, though."
"Maybe she's rippin' us off."
"How about you give five bucks instead. That way it's not too much, just in case. I'll give the rest."
Ten minutes later, doorbell rang. "All right, sir, you wanna take a look?" she asked. "The ice is really thick."
I inspected Lisa's work. Not really a whole lot done. "I'd like you to clear this area more, please," I said. "At least the path gets to the car." She got back to chipping.
Ten minutes later, doorbell rang again. I had decided if she did a decent job, I'd give her twenty dollars. With my son's five, that'd be twenty-five. Normally I'd negotiate a price beforehand, but didn't bother this time.
Second inspection. She did what I asked her to. Invited her in to settle up.
"How much do I owe you?"
She was a bit sheepish. "Oh, whatever you want to give."
"If you're running a business, you should know your prices," I said.
"Oh, I know," she said, pausing. "I'm just nervous."
"That's okay. So what's your price?"
"I normally charge twenty dollars for a driveway. My goal for today is sixty-five, and I'm twenty-five short. If you could get me to my goal, I'd be so grateful."
I did a mental calculation. Twenty-five bucks for twenty minutes work. Comes to seventy-five bucks an hour. I looked at her, didn't say anything.
"How about the next time it snows more than ten centimetres, I'll come back and shovel for free." Since I was prepared to give her twenty-five, I agreed. I gave her twenty and told her my son wanted to give the rest.
She seemed genuinely surprised. "Oh, my Lord, you're such a sweetheart," she said to my son. Are you sure that's okay?"
"Yeah," he replied. She asked me if she could hug him. My son said it was okay. She gave him a big hug.
"You've made my day! Thank you so much, you're good people," she said with a huge smile. We offered her some chili, but she declined. As she left, I told her not to worry about coming back to shovel.
"Oh, no, I keep my word. I'll be back. I'll bring you a business card and put it in your mailbox, too."
I asked for her phone number. She gave one to me. We said goodbye and I closed the door.
"Now doesn't that feel good to help someone, son?" I said.
"It does," he said, then paused. "Dad... do you think she was telling the truth?"
"I think so. And if she was lying, well, it'll catch up to her. But the important thing is you chose to be kind. She did some work and we did pay her a bit much, but it's not like we gave her forty thousand dollars."
I was really proud of him. I felt we shared a special moment together. After my wife came home, he wanted me to describe our encounter with Lisa. Hearing the words come out of my mouth, I thought it sounded a little far-fetched, and doubted myself.
"Naw, she wouldn't have lied," I said. "I hope not."
Before supper was on the table, I walked to the house where my son and I met Lisa. Had to find out the truth. Knocked on the door. Dog barked. A man answered.
"Hey, I live down the street," I said. I told the man about my encounter, asked if he bought his house recently. Turns out he's lived there for a while. Lisa never owned the house.
"I know the lady. She goes around the neighbourhood," he chuckled. She doesn't really do much work. She's harmless, but basically looking for a handout."
I felt sucker-punched. Hook, line and sinker. Lisa got me good.
I returned home and told my family the news. "So we did get ripped off!" my son said. I told him this was a learning experience. I was still proud of him for being generous. It's unfortunate we have to be more skeptical of people. Because there are some who'll try to take advantage of us.
I felt betrayed by Lisa. She didn't have to lie. I also felt sorry for her. There's probably a bit of truth to some of her stories. There usually is. I think if we're honest, we've all lied to ourselves at some point in our lives.
But I also feel thankful. Because for a brief moment, she helped my son and I share a feeling of hope, kindness and generosity. We really did feel good about ourselves that afternoon.
For twenty-five dollars, I'd say that was a good investment. I just wouldn't buy that particular product from Lisa again.