Violin

A couple begs outside Safeway in Sahuarita on Wednesday.

I wrote in Wednesday’s newsletter about a scam involving fake violin players panhandling in supermarket parking lots.

Begging on street corners is as old as time, but this twist has sprung up during the pandemic and involves people going state to state with electric violins, speakers, woe-is-me signs and children as props.

I heard two of them were at Sprouts in Sahuarita on Tuesday but they’d packed up by the time I arrived. After the newsletter came out, somebody shopping at Safeway on Duval Mine Road emailed us a photo and a message: “They’re here now!”

I headed over and parked. In my short walk to where they’d set up I saw two people give and others headed in their direction. The beggars were having a good day.

I took a photo of the young couple — he “playing” the violin, she holding the sign, and saw two kids in their minivan. I watched for a while. Clearly, he was not a musician and couldn’t play the violin. And is often the case, one deception leads to another.

 I proceeded to tell people who were approaching to give money that this is all fake. He’s not playing the violin (nice recording though) and it’s just a way for lazy people to tug at heartstrings and rake in cash based on lies. Give your money where you want, but this is not what it appears to be.

I then approached the guy and said I knew he wasn’t playing the violin and asked, “Why are you lying to people?” His response surprised me: “Italiano. No English.” 

Playing dumb is great way to avoid responsibility. Except the language-barrier ruse is just another lie and I told him so (in English and perfectly passable Spanish, which is close enough to Italian). I also told him I was staying there until they left.

I continued to wave off more (grateful) would-be donors, pointing them to the nearby Salvation Army red kettle if they wanted to give and keep it in the community. One woman came up and told me she’d already given to the couple and that they spoke to her at length in English.

The man then approached me with a language translator on his phone (Italian to Spanish) which read, “What must I do to prove I’m not fake?” 

I laughed at him, told him I was fully aware he speaks English and that there is nothing he could do — just leave our community. 

I had a Safeway employee get a manager (they control the parking lot), and the couple were packing up as he walked out. The woman beggar then approached me with an Italian passport (no idea why) and asked why I was doing this. Because you’re a fraud, I said, getting money out of people under false pretenses. She eventually got around to telling me I’m crazy, which I prefer to dishonest any day. She said, “God bless you,” which He did when they drove away.

So what’s wrong with people begging on the corner? It’s not illegal on private property, and people weren’t being approached and hounded to give.

I’ve given to plenty of buskers — true musicians playing for their next meal or just the joy of performing. But that’s not what this was.

The problem here is deception, lying and manipulation. And, ultimately, redirection of resources to a false cause (rent, hunger, mom’s medical bills — all lies, as evidenced by these scammers using the same tactics across the country). Good-hearted people are being taken advantage of, and the truly needy are not helped because thousands of dollars are diverted to these fakes.

They are hurting people with their lies. That’s the problem.

If these people were legitimate, honest and freely admitted to flat-out begging, they’d have to change their signs: "I pick up a quick tax-free $200 a day doing this. It's better than a real job because it's easy to emotionally manipulate you, especially with my kids as props and the deception of showing you I’m willing to work by using my ‘musical talent’ to feed my family." 

Illegal? No.

Immoral and wrong? All the way around.

People can give their money to whoever they please. But if you truly want to help others, consider giving to known legitimate organizations in our community instead of these traveling scam artists.

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