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Investigation: The Panhandler scam

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PAINESVILLE, OH (WOIO) -

Seems we see more and more of them every week -- panhandlers claiming to be in need of a helping hand.

But are their claims real?

Panhandlers -- on street corners, at plaza entrances, even on highway exit ramps. 19 Action News reporter Paul Orlousky decided to take a look at the situation after a viewer called about a two man operation in Painesville where the same guys one day claimed to have diabetes, the next day to be homeless and another day needing to feed a family.

On a blustery winter morning, seeing a guy with a sign outside a busy shopping plaza might tug at your heartstrings.

And as we saw, it did for lots of folks who stopped and handed over cash but then we notice a second man seeking cash, at the other plaza entrance with a nearly identical looking sign made of the identical material with a different message. We wondered what was up...

"I see you over there and him over here or vice versa. You guys working together," asked reporter Paul Orlousky. 

"No. No," stated the panhandler. 

"No, you don't know one another," asked Paul.

"Get that f***in thing outta my face," yelled the panhandler.

Well several times we had seen the pair comparing notes, taking lunch together, and arriving at the plaza at the same time. The second man also denied they were a team.

"I noticed the guy over at the other end, you at this one, you guys working together," said reporter Paul Orlousky? "No no. No not at all. No," said the second panhandler.

We had received complaints from people who said the men sometimes switched signs and used other signs claiming health problems. We also checked out a claim they requested cash when people offered food.

"Well, OK I'm going into the store can I get you some food, something like that for you guys like a food card," said an undercover reporter. "Yeah food card," said the panhandler. "OK, well let me know I'll see what I can do for you," said the undercover reporter. 

A food card is used exactly like cash, a $50.00 card can be used for a carton of cigarettes that this guy might enjoy. But also for alcohol and not just food.

"You ask for food cards? That's cash," said Paul Orlousky. "I didn't ask for food cards," denied the panhandler.

19 Action News received other complaints including the pair stalking people at a nearby bank ATM, frightening them. Even approaching people going into a dialysis center.

Before long they left their posts, they had been out on the sidewalk by Giant Eagle. Previously they'd been at the doors of the store. The Sheriff's department says they've done all they can they can't stop them from harassing people. Other people say they've just been darn rude.

People at the homeless coalition say a panhandler can make between $15 and $45 a day depending on how long they stay out.

No doubt people are moved by a sympathetic looking figure.

If you want to help send your dollars to a reputable organization that helps those in need --a charity or the homeless coalition

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