Stranger rang my doorbell, asked me to call a cab, and left bag on porch
February 28, 2015 4:02 PM   Subscribe

I am female and at home alone right now. A guy I don't know rang my doorbell and asked me to call him a cab. He was dressed somewhat appropriately for winter but looked very cold. I was a little nervous but felt sorry for him--but being alone, I said okay and did not let him into the house. I called him a cab, explained the situation to the dispatcher, and they said they would send over the cab right away. I saw a cab pull away a little while later--same company I called--but it was too dark to tell if the guy was in there. I looked through the front door and saw the guy was gone but that he'd left a plastic bag full of stuff. I can't tell what any of it is aside from a smoking cessation package. Question/s: Should I just pitch it? Is it safe? Should I have not called the cab? I feel like I'm being scammed or the victim of some trick, but I don't know what.
posted by methroach to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Me, I'd call the police non-emergency line and tell them what happened and ask them if they wouldn't mind picking up the stuff because the whole scene seemed a little sketchy. Assuming there's nothing weird with it, they can hold the guy's things for him or call him if there's ID or whatever. I think you did just fine calling the cab and not letting him in, but there's no need to get involved with whatever this is either.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:04 PM on February 28, 2015 [44 favorites]


Anecdotally, about 30 years ago my dad was carjacked before carjacking had a name. He had been on his way to the airport for a red eye flight home to NJ from LA, where he was on a business trip. In addition to the rental car, the carjackers took everything he had, including his glasses, and threw him out into the street. He knocked on a stranger's door late at night for help and she let him call my mom. There's more to the story but the point is that it may not have been anything shady. This guy may have had a rough night, been flustered and forgotten his bag.

That said, I agree with the advice to contact the police at the non-emergency number.
posted by amro at 4:14 PM on February 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Can you also call the cab company? They'll know where they dropped him off and might be willing to swing by for his bag or let him know he left it behind. In the meantime, don't bother going out to check on it now - deal with it when others are around.
posted by Toddles at 4:18 PM on February 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


I used to get this in a town. Guy knocks on the door. Lady, help me. Awww.

Don't do it again. Tell him, I'm calling 911 if you don't get off my porch. It's a common scam. Think about it. Who is going to come up to your door with a good reason. UPS or Fed-x or the Post Man. All others get the 911 call if they don't step off right away.

I don't care about non-emergency, if a man is at my door, trying to talk to me, I WILL call 911, because I don't know his intentions.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:45 PM on February 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Please don't call 911 in this situation. Not knowing someone's intentions is not an emergency.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 4:48 PM on February 28, 2015 [107 favorites]


I am a woman and I would call the non-emergency number for the police and run it by them. They'll tell you what to do and you will feel calmer and they will have info if there is a scam.

My guess is the guy might have had an argument with a girlfriend or somebody *in their car* and been told he had to make his own way home. And he didn't have a cell phone. Then he accidentally left his bag on your porch. He might not be a great person or anything, but his reasons for appearing at your door might not be shady.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:54 PM on February 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


You did fine. Don't investigate the bag, just call the non-emergency number.

A man once came to my door, at night, just as I was opening it to show a friend out.

The guy ran up to us and breathlessly said "there are people chasing me!" My friend and I looked down the street and saw no one. Like you, I was in no position to let him in my house, and the whole thing seemed sketchy.

So when he said people were chasing him, and seeing no one, I said "You'd better keep running! I'll call the police." And I did. And he did. He kept running.

It was the best I could do in the moment.

You did fine.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:02 PM on February 28, 2015 [21 favorites]


I think you did the best you could under the circumstances. You called him a cab which he apparently needed but didn't invite him in since you were home alone. I wouldn't worry about the bag of stuff since it sounds like nothing particularly valuable. It's not like he left behind a wallet with a thousand bucks in it.

Please don't call 911 just because someone in need asks you to call a cab.

You did good, OP.
posted by Justinian at 5:02 PM on February 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Depending on the city, neighborhood, time of day, etc., I've answered 911 calls with far lamer reasons. At this point the non emergency line definitely makes more sense, but in the moment, I would not categorically say 911 is out of the question.
posted by ericales at 5:45 PM on February 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Why not just call the cab company back and ask them if their passenger, leaving from your location at that time (based on a previous call from your number) might be missing some items? They might or might not be able to help you, but it's possible that the guy thinks he left his bag in the cab -- in which case, he would contact the cab company, but he has no way to contact you.
posted by amtho at 6:15 PM on February 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Here is a little Snopesy advice.

I think calling the nonemergency line to have the cops check out the bag left on your porch is a-OK. Not knowing a stranger's intentions is perhaps not an emergency-- so use the non-emergency line. If it ends up being just regular stuff, I'd let the cab company know (they may not care but then you tried).

(Don't feel bad about not letting him in or being concerned about his bag. I think you'll get a lot of "watch out for yourself" answers from women and a lot of "really, the cops?" from men. Women are just socialized to be more wary of stranger danger, often for good reason. If you are suspicious, don't feel guilty, and protect yourself. You don't need to start an interstate manhunt for the guy, but there is a nonemergency line for nonemergency concerns.) Personally I think leaving his bag behind is sketchy (like it's possible he was trying to get in and forgot about his bag because his eye was on the prize) so I'd be concerned and want someone to come by anyway, and if anything else weird happens 911 can be in the back of your mind.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:27 PM on February 28, 2015 [16 favorites]


Call the non-emergency line, tell them what happened, that you're creeped out. Let them come and take the bag. Odds are astronomically in favor of the guy being super drunk and if so, grand, and if not, the cops have the bag.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:29 PM on February 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I doubt there is anything that is going to hurt you in the bag - just take a look in the morning, and see if there is anything of value.

If you are worried about your safety now, call a cab and go to a hotel.
posted by yarly at 8:05 PM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yep, completely sketchy. I grew up in a place that had a fair amount of scam crimes, and when I was about 25 and living in Philadelphia I had a woman (with a bag) show up at my door with a long story about how her car had broken down but she needed to get home to feed her hungry dog and would I please give her a lift? Just please? Because I had heard some of these stories before I had the gut sense that something was wrong, and I offered everything I could that did not involve me going with her or leaving my house. I told her I didn't have a car, offered to call a cab, offered to call the cops, gave her my landline cordless handset to call the cops. She kept refusing my brainstormed helpful ideas and circling around the idea that no, I really need you to drive me, I don't want to involve the police, such a fuss, I'm old and lonely, hungry dog, etc. I played dumb, and eventually she left, but no joke, it took like 25 minutes. For a few days I gave myself a really hard time for refusing this supplicant and thinking ill of her; it made me feel like a moral failure. But not too much later I learned that this was yet one more of the tactics used in home invasion scam burglaries and there was an active ring in my city trying them out. I'm now pretty certain that's what was going on.

Upshot: never, ever, ever feel guilty for the way you react to sudden demands on your hospitality or charity. If everything's on the up and up, no one will care if you call the police or another more appropriate, trustworthy entity to help. If you get resistance, there's probably an issue. And even if none of this stuff is at all the case, you are best off listening to your gut instincts and getting the authorities involved. If nothing else, you have created a record of a sort of weird event happening in your neighborhood - something that could be part of a larger pattern you would have no idea of unless you reported it. It could be totally nothing, but in that case, no harm done.

Search terms: ruse burglary, deception burglary.
posted by Miko at 8:13 PM on February 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Thank you all. I was expecting company when I posted and hadn't even called the non-emerg number, though I did look it up, when the police showed up. Apparently a neighbour had noticed the guy sitting on my porch and then "jumping into traffic". The police officers got my story and opened the bag, which turned out to contain a lot of prescription drugs. Before they left they got the name of the cab company and added that if something similar happens again, don't call a cab--just call police.
posted by methroach at 9:05 PM on February 28, 2015 [28 favorites]


Good for you for following up. Regardless of the contents of the bag, the worst case scenario was that it was a set-up for the guy to end up at your door the next day or some time in the future, pounding and yelling about how you had his stuff and he wanted it back.
posted by blue suede stockings at 10:07 PM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Please don't call 911 in this situation. Not knowing someone's intentions is not an emergency.

Rubbish. Please do call 911 if you feel the need to do so. A guy knocking on your door at night who gives you the creeps is more than enough justification.
posted by doctor tough love at 10:10 PM on February 28, 2015 [23 favorites]


I agree with doctor tough love (above). I went to a neighborhood association meeting a few years ago. A local police officer was the guest speaker. He told us that if we should see anything suspicious or odd, even if we're not sure what's exactly going on, we should not hesitate to call 911. I think his advice makes sense.
posted by akk2014 at 4:18 AM on March 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


If you are in a place with a well-run 911 dispatch operation, I strongly recommend calling 911 for situations like this. Even if they consider it a low priority because you aren't in immediate physical harm and they're short on officers, there's still a record created which will be useful to detectives if a scam is going on. Don't worry about tying up 911 resources, they're pretty good at weeding out what is important in most cases. It's better to call with good intentions than to let your gut feeling go neglected.

All bets on this are off if your 911 center is run poorly or undermanned. If you have had a bad experience with them in the past, then at the very least use the non-emergency line.
posted by skyl1n3 at 5:49 AM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not sure where you live but something on this level of suspiciousness happens to me once a year or so in Chicago. Where I live, calling the police will just result in a report being filed. One time the dispatcher seemed annoyed that I called for a non-crime. So personally, I would just chuck the bag in the trash and go on with my day, maybe being a little more alert than usual.
posted by deathpanels at 12:38 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


"If you see something, say something"

If you live in a big city where 911 is likely to be very busy, look for the non-emwrgency number. Most everywhere else, you're not taking up valuable resources using 911.

I don't agree with the cop. If you call the cops and not the cab, and the cops don't come, you could be on a fix.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:08 PM on March 1, 2015


If their intention was never to get in a cab, you're in a fix anyway. Cops.
posted by Miko at 5:24 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


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