We’ve all struggled with the moral question: who can I help and how do I know if I should help? This can be a particularly difficult question to answer when it comes to panhandlers. Most of us feel sympathetic when we see someone sitting on the side of the road and asking for money. The unique signs that panhandlers hold up can be especially affective, as no one wants to ignore an out-of-work or homeless veteran, or mother of three. Yet, we are also faced with the question of whether or not the person is telling the truth or simply making up a story to garner or sympathy.
Unfortunately, many panhandlers are making lots of money and not actually financially suffering. While it is difficult to tell the difference between someone who truly needs help, and someone who is taking advantage of others, there are certain tactics that regular panhandlers employ.
One of the easiest ways that expert panhandlers get our money is by buying into our sympathies and by filling our need to help others. The majority of us are sympathetic to the homeless, and we want to help them when possible. Seeing someone who looks tired, potentially wounded, and in need of a shower rings a bell in our minds that tells us that something isn’t right. Panhandlers who have small children with them also get our attention, because the majority of us feel that no child should be hungry or cold. People who hold up signs that indicate that they are veterans, or who have a clear disability, also get our attention.
Another way that expert handlers succeed is by being very specific about what they need. Most of us wouldn’t hand money to someone with a sign asking for money for alcohol; however, we might be more likely to give money to someone who needs food or is out of work and wants interview clothing. Regardless of what they actually spend the money they get on, expert handlers know that they need to be careful about how they ask for the money, and what they claim they will use it for.