I don't think I look like a typical beggar, dressed in freshly-washed jeans and a mustard sweatshirt.

But when I ask passersby for money over the course of about half an hour, claiming I'd lost my wallet and was trying to get a bus home, several people believed me.

The Herald has had several complaints lately about well-dressed scammers telling sob stories to get money out of people.

That included Margaret Thomsen, 72, who fell for the pleas of a dishevelled-looking man outside a Bay of Plenty Countdown supermarket.


The man told her he was driving from Starship Hospital in Auckland with his dead granddaughter in his van but he had run out of petrol.

Thomsen believed the story, and went into the Countdown to get cash out for him.

It wasn't until a man in the queue at the checkout interfered that she didn't hand the money over.

Does it work to be better dressed? The Herald put it to the test on Auckland's Victoria Street West where, not so far up the road, are other regular beggars.

The first couple I asked immediately fished into their bags for their wallets to help.

Five others I asked for money from also stopped in their tracks and dug around their pockets for coins.

Many however avoided me altogether, ignored me, said they didn't carry cash or had to rush off to various things.

At one point, a woman who looked homeless, although I couldn't be sure, asked me if I was okay, while another supposed beggar held out their hand and asked me for money.


As the people who wanted to give me money went to hand it over, I told them I was a reporter and didn't want or need their money. There was mixed reaction.

One woman said she didn't usually give to beggars. "I walk this street every day and they just beg every morning."

A couple said they didn't give to beggars but they believed I didn't look like "the regular streetie".

A man said he does give to beggars but didn't often have cash on him. He added he didn't think I was a beggar but still wanted to help.

Auckland University associate professor in psychology Dr Niki Harre said anyone approached should consider how they responded on a case-by-case basis.

"We should be careful not to take news that people are scamming others to mean that all requests for help are a scam.

"Perhaps the worst thing about these scams is that they create a sense that people asking for help cannot be trusted."

Harre suggested offering alternative ways to help, such as calling someone for them. If they were not genuine, they would likely repeat they needed money.

"But remember that most people treat others with respect and kindness and we need to be careful to guard against being open when others are in need."