It’s nearly 10 p.m. when I reach the J/M Myrtle Broadway station. I’m late to meet my friend at a nearby bar, so I rush down the steps in my “Be Kind” sweatshirt, headphones covering my ears. I take a moment to look ahead of me when I reach ground level, and I’m about to cross the street when a man, dressed in a best-up white sweater and beanie approaches me. He’s carrying two reusable grocery bags filled with all kinds of miscellaneous items: a lamp, a rabbit plushie, clothing, heels and who knows what else.
“Excuse me! Excuse me!” he yells. When I finally turn to look at him, he indicates with his hand that he wants me to take off my headphones. Against my better judgment to keep on moving, I do, and give up my right of way as the pedestrian signal turns to the red hand.
He takes this opportunity to get closer to me. “I’m scared,” he says and begins rambling about the incredibly long day he had just had. He’s unfamiliar with the area and keeps repeating, “I don’t normally do this” and “You’re so nice.”
He’s speaking so fast that he trips over his own words. I don’t understand much else but eventually learn that his name is Randy and that he’s a stylist who had been thrown out of a gypsy cab on the way to his studio in Tribeca. According to him, his phone, wallet and other props were still inside when the car took off, leaving him stranded. He tells me he is need of cash to get a cab from Bed-Stuy Car Services.
“How much do you need?” I ask. Part of me is telling me to walk away because, after all, this is New York City. But I decide to listen to the voice inside my head that says he’s a person in need and to turn him away in the middle of Bushwick would be karmic suicide. Besides, I’m late, my friend is texting me and I just want to end the conversation.
Randy is surprised and tells me to look him up, which I don’t, as he continues his spiel. He’s a con artist, you see, and he had spent time perfecting his story. The way he approached me was part of his act to create a sense of urgency.
At this point, I am wondering why he is telling me all this when I had already agreed to help him. I go into the corner bodega, get $40 from the ATM machine and hand it to him.
I’m about to turn the corner and leave him on the sidewalk, but he stops me and hands me one of his reusable grocery bags. “What’s your size?” he asks before handing over a white maxi dress, three pairs of heels and a pair of new jeans, among other things. I carry the bag with me to the bar and tell my friend about what just happened.
“Yeah, I’m not going to see that money again,” I say and look Randy up on my phone by the name on his email, Howard Sandiford. Sure enough, pictures of this man with the word “SCAMMER” centered across pop up on Google Images and the first page of search results detail other times people have either encountered him or have been scammed themselves.
Apparently, “Randy,” short for Randuel, has been scamming people all across Brooklyn. This Reddit thread, for example, shares people’s experiences with him at Eastern Parkway and Troy, in front of the C train station at the Ralph stop, and around the A/C line on Utica Avenue. Journalist Jennifer Harlan also writes about her experience being scammed in Zelda & Scout. You can read about more people’s experiences with him here.
What adds legitimacy to his claim are the few pictures circulating the internet of him at an awards show, a book reading and generally in his suit. You can find a collage of them and a written account of his usual story here. There is even a video of him on YouTube with the description “Randuel, owner of RHS Just For Show NY, gets his groove on at IED Awards Press Event NYC May 19th 2014.” The comment section is filled with people sharing their own stories, but the description has yet to reflect it.
Naturally, I was upset, but I’ve accepted being scammed (this one definitely hurt!) as part of being a native New Yorker, who unfortunately, can also be naive sometimes. I also thought getting his name out there will help people not get scammed if they ever do meet “Randy.”
New York City is filled with all kinds of con artists who will take advantage of anyone who is willing to listen. This is not to say that everyone asking for alms is scamming you, but before you hand out any money, think if the story is plausible for a moment. Offer a meal or a beverage instead of paying for someone’s dinner straight up with cash.
Featured Image by Hrag Vartanian via Creative Commons.
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