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Transit police are warning SkyTrain passengers of a scam that targets seniors and tourists who think they are receiving assistance from a helpful stranger. File photo-Dan Toulgoet

'Helping hands' part of SkyTrain scam

By Sandra Thomas-Staff writer

If there's a will, there's a way to rip people off.

Inspector Dan Dureau, with the SkyTrain Transit Police, said the latest scam targeting people using SkyTrain is just another example of the lengths some people will go to scam the innocent.

"If they can find a way to separate people from their money, they will," said Dureau. "It happens wherever people gather, like at a store or a phone booth. Wherever there's money to be had someone will come up with a way to get it."

The "Helping Hand" scam, as it's been dubbed, has been increasing at SkyTrain stations. In the scam, a "nice stranger" approaches people buying tickets at a ticket vending machine along the SkyTrain route. The man, who has been targeting seniors and tourists, offers to help them purchase their ticket. But during the transaction, the scammer switches the newly purchased ticket for an old one, which is usually invalid.

TransLink media liaison Drew Snider said the man disappears and tries to sell the ticket on the street. He said reselling a ticket is illegal under Transit Conduct Regulations and punishable by a fine of $173.

"We're not sure if it's the same guy, or if it's a few of them that have figured out this scam," said Snider. "I don't know how they come up with these ideas."

Snider said after making their purchase the passenger attempts to board a bus or the SkyTrain, unaware they're carrying a ticket that's expired or is well into its 90-minute limit.

"Then they try to use their ticket to get on a bus and find out it's expired," said Snider. "Depending on who it is though, their attitude and credibility, some people have been allowed to continue on their way."

He said several people have reported the scam to the SkyTrain Transit Police.

"I remember the first time I went to France they had similar warnings along the Metro," he said. "I guess big city crime has finally caught up to us."

Snider warns the "Helpful Stranger" is not the only scam criminals are using to acquire and re-sell transit tickets. He cautioned that passengers should purchase tickets only from vending machines or on board buses and that anyone having problems purchasing a ticket should ask for help from a uniformed SkyTrain attendant or security guard. He said if no attendant is available, customers should pick up the customer-information phone and ask for assistance.

Dureau said passengers should refuse unsolicited help from anyone who asks them to handle their money, unless they're wearing a SkyTrain or police uniform.

Snider said transit customers who purchase monthly passes should also be careful.

"They should only buy their monthly passes from dealers with [official] stickers placed prominently in windows or on the front door," he said.

published on 08/09/2006

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