Here is a situation I encountered multiple times in New York City streets, lately.

Usually at a sidewalk corner where people are likely to wait for the pedestrian crossing "walk" signal, a gang of two, three, four people are present. One of them hands a CD in a plastic pocket, supposedly a pre-release brand new rap album of the guy. The way he wants you to take the CD is rather aggressive. Another man of the gang does the same thing, even asking for your name and writing it on the plastic pocket. They even give you extra CDs, makes no sense!

The trouble comes when they all start asking for money, talking about a donation. It begins by $1, $5... and it seems very difficult to say no as the guys do not want to take the CDs back. As they look physically in good shape and likely to have regular workouts at the gym, they appear impressive, and the idea of getting into an argument is just out of the question.

In the process of taking the money out of the wallet to pay the forced donation, when I was caught in that scheme, I accidentally let them see a $20 bill in my wallet. They wanted it right away and gave me minimal change out of it "as it is for their friends too".

How can one escape this situation safely without giving out any money?

Note for duplicates: This situation, even if similar to the string scam used in other cities, is unique due to the approach of someone looking friendly and the realistic expectation to discover new music. And such people are rather difficult to "calculate" on first sight. Furthermore, I was not aware of similar schemes with different objects used before living the scam for real.

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    Possible duplicate of What's the deal with the "string people" in central Paris?
    – Freiheit
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 17:23
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    This closely duplicates: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/13300/… . It may stand on its own merits if it is considered in the context of NYC vs. Paris. Telling someone off in NYC has a different social impact than in Paris. Police procedures in either place are also different. However the fundamental scam is EXACTLY the same and general attitudes and strategies apply in either case. I flagged this before reading the answer below, whoops.
    – Freiheit
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 17:24
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 21:30

9 Answers 9


A few things:

  1. Avoid making eye contact with them. Nothing will make them come up to you more aggressively than eye contact. You've seen them, they saw you see them, and they know it's a lot harder for you to ignore them now.

  2. As stated above, do not engage. If they approach you and you cannot immediately walk away just say no. Repeatedly say no if pressed.

  3. Blow right past them. If you are not stuck on that corner just walk right past them without regarding them at all. Do not let them stop you. If one of them tries to block your way walk around them.

  4. Wear headphones, even if you don't intend to listen to anything (and you shouldn't be.) It's much easier to ignore someone when you can pretend that you can't hear them. People are also much less likely to approach you if you are wearing headphones.

  5. If you did engage, do not take the CD. This is the worst thing you could do.

  6. If you have taken the CD and they refuse to take it back, gently put it on the ground and walk away.

I live in NYC and do not have an issue with these people and have not since I was new there. You simply ignore them.

  • 12
    "Wear Headphones. It's much easier to ignore someone when you can pretend you do not hear them. People are also much less likely to approach you if you are wearing headphones." It's also harder to hear things you need to hear like cars, sirens, people coming up behind you, or important queries from strangers. Tuning out on the world runs the risk of becoming a victim to an accident or more significant crime.
    – Freiheit
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 20:49
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    @Freiheit I see nowhere in this post where the author suggests you actually play something on those ear buds, or for that matter, even plug them in to anything. I frequently use this technique, with a simple pair of Apple buds in my ears and the cord tucked in to my breast pocket inside my coat. I can hear everything, and time and again scammers just blow right by, hitting up the poor sap standing next to me.
    – WhozCraig
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 22:44
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    I think its implied but you raise a good point. I had not previously considered just having earbuds or headphones on w/o something playing.
    – Freiheit
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 13:14
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    @Freiheit I did not intend to imply that. As I said it is much easier to ignore someone when you can pretend you do not hear them. It does not matter if you are listening to anything or not. Edited answer to address the confusion. Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 13:15
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    Drop -> Gently put. No sudden movements and no suggestion you intend to damage the CD.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 21:29

Tell them you don't have a CD player; it's 2017. Don't make eye contact and keep walking.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JoErNanO
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 17:32
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    They do not deserve explanation. Just keep walking.
    – emory
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 9:50
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    Just keep walking. Say "nah" if you want. No need to justify yourself with nonsense excuses.
    – coinbird
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 16:05
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    The just keep walking stuff doesn't work if you can't. In my state, there are sometimes approaches by a random guy trying to sell you his indie album while you're pumping gas. You can't just keep walking because you ain't walking. So "I don't even own a cd player" is a good option here, because most likely true. Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 20:04
  • Does it only work if they can get it to stick on your person?
    – user35810
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 20:32

If you have a cell phone, take it out and call 911. When the operator answers, say "I am being harassed by an unlicensed peddler." At this point, they will likely disappear.

In case you are reluctant to call the emergency number for something that you may not view as an emergency, here's a page on the New York City website that explicitly instructs you to do so:

The City accepts reports of illegal peddlers or vendors operating without a license in a restricted area. In addition, you can report peddlers or vendors who are currently blocking crosswalks, traffic or ATMs, or otherwise causing a hazard or nuisance.

Call 911 to report a vendor causing a hazard or nuisance.

Disclaimer: this technique is untested. If I get a chance to test it, I'll come back and edit this answer.

In case you have not seen it, there is a New York Times article on the practice in which the reporter describes getting his hands on a CD by purchasing it from a tourist (after a scammer refused to sell him one). The CD was blank, so in addition to the other crimes being committed there may also be fraud.

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    "a scammer refused to sell him one" -- so wearing a press pass (or something that looks a bit like one, or otherwise looking like a journalist) might be an effective way to avoid the scammers! Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 17:09
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    I've personally never threatened to call the police on a street scammer as I've found it's easier to just ignore them and keep walking. That being said I live in the city currently and I believe if you tried this with the wrong person on the wrong day there is a good chance this would lead to a physical altercation the moment "Hello police?" was said into your phone. People tend to get upset when their livelihood is threatened, even if that livelihood is illegitimate. Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 18:08
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JoErNanO
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 17:31
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    While I realize this is the most highly voted answer at this point, as someone who lives in New York City, and has seen a lot of sketchy stuff, doing something like actually stopping next to these people and calling 911 is really unsafe. The chances of you being physically attacked would most likely increase by doing that. The best advice is to just ignore them and past by/through them as if they were street fixtures. Don’t give them a name. Don’t do/say anything. Just physically get past them. Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 5:11
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    @JakeGould: I have to agree there - if you must call 911, note the location of the scammer and do it well out of their sight. It may be safer to enter a store or other establishment to make the call than to remain outside. I have called police against a MetroCard scammer at one point and I did it well out of the person's sight. When I tried to take a picture of the person in question (after the call), I was threatened with a physical attack.
    – bwDraco
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 16:48

Related to the string bracelets in Europe ...

What's the deal with the "string people" in central Paris?

Be assertive and just say NO (be as polite as possible) and be on you way.

Do not engage with them, keep your hands on your valuables, and walk away.

If feeling threatened, enter a store/restaurant, or other safe(r) space.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JoErNanO
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 17:32
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    Why do you think it is necessary to say "no" as polite as necessary? One says "no" to persuade them that one is not willing to take/give anything and not to persuade them that one is a nice guy.
    – miracle173
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 17:21
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    @miracle173 Because insulting someone is an invitation to conflict.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 14:30
  • "keep your hands on your valuables" So they'll be able to spot your valueables easy? Nah, keep your hands ready to move. Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 20:06
  • @OscarBravo The Little Rocket Man and The Dotard is a children's story waiting to be written Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 21:25

Simply act confident, say "nah bruh i'm good" and just keep walking or ignore them. They are used to it, they aren't going to waste their time harassing someone they don't think is a mark, and they aren't going to risk getting arrested for assaulting some dude who did what a hundred people have already done to them that day: ignore them.

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    This absolutely works in my experience. I'm not sure it has to be any more complicated than that. Don't close your hand around it, don't stop to accept it, just decline and walk on. Any attempt to engage in any kind of conversation or interaction beyond that will only make things more complicated and draw out the situation. I can't help but wonder though - when this happened to me it was in Times Square. The situation might feel very different in a less-travelled area. Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 16:57
  • @DarrenRinger True, but it's a scam that relies on a steady stream of potential marks. You're not too likely to encounter it in a quieter area.
    – Tiercelet
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 17:34

I avoid it by not stepping foot in New York. But for those who lack that option, as with similar kinds of people I've encountered in parts of Marrakech, Sydney, Lima, Saigon, Miami, and many other cities, the answer is much the same as for the recent question How to get rid of the men who ask for money in Milan?you must not engage in any way from the start.

This is difficult for a polite person to do, especially if your cultural background has a lot of greeting-related etiquette. It took me years, as an American who is accustomed to chatting with total strangers in line at a Starbucks. But if you so much as look up at them, they see it as an opening.

Do not say hello. Do not reply to good evening. Do not stop. Do not say thank you if they compliment your clothes. Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not turn when they mention their sick daughter. Put your hands in your pockets; all the better so that they cannot hand anything to you, and to foil any would-be pickpockets associated with them or not. If they put something in your hand, put it back on the ground. If they grab your arm, pull away. If they get right in your face so that you cannot ignore them, give a firm no, I am not interested, repeated as necessary.

There is no need to be loud or violent or belligerent, just confident. If I see this kind of activity on a street and cannot avoid it, I will stop and put in my headphones (without even playing music) to make them easier to ignore. Once they figure out that they are wasting their time with you, they will move on to someone else.

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    As a New Yorker, I want to point out that cultural norms differ across America. Specifically, "chatting with total strangers in line at a Starbucks" is unaccountably rude here, unless you've got a real good reason. You're a stranger to those people, they don't want to talk to you, they're just trapped in that line hoping you'll go away--you're doing the same thing as the CD scammers, you just happen to be asking for attention rather than money. I suspect this rule applies in most large Western cities.
    – Tiercelet
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 20:01
  • @Tiercelet I'm well aware of those norms. The point is that I'm not someone who's naturally afraid of strangers, or naturally brusque to them, but I can still maintain standoffishness when it is useful. It is a skill everyone needs to learn when traveling.
    – choster
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 20:47
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    @Tiercelet "cultural norms differ across America" "I suspect this rule applies in most large Western cities." Contradiction spotted. Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 9:39
  • @DavidRicherby There can't possibly be any norms that apply only to the coastal cities? Seems fairly farfetched to me.
    – Andy
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 16:07
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    @Andy Since the question is about New York, I assume that "Western" means "The West" as in Europe and the Americas, as distinct from Russia and China, rather than meaning the west coast of the USA. Tiercelet seems to be saying, essentially, "That thing you think applies everywhere probably doesn't, but this thing that I think applies everywhere obviously does." Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 22:22

There are lots of answers here and, I would think from the content, not from people who see scams frequently. Your attention is taken by them - it happens. Here is your BEST reaction:

Say "No", immediately LOSE EYE CONTACT and walk away. Do NOT be courteous. Do NOT say "No thankyou." Do NOT give any reason or excuse. Do NOT engage in ANY form of conversation. Just WALK AWAY without looking back.

They will not be following - they will be harassing the next person behind you.

If you engage on any level, they will coerce money from you. If they see your wallet, you've pretty much lost the day.

  • Not true. A scam like this could also be pulled in a situation where you aren't walking and can't easily leave. Someone could approach you to sell you their indie cd at a gas station, while you're pumping gas. You have to engage, because you're stationary. Just tell the truth: not interested. Don't like music. Don't even own a cd player. Whatever. And don't walk away with your back to a potential mugger like a moron. Make them leave first. And be ready to fight if necessary: that's the best advice. Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 20:10
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    @developerwjk I don't think the "best advice" is to be "ready for a fight" since, if you are actually dealing with a mugger, that is a great way to escalate the situation.
    – Casey
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 21:21
  • @Casey, I mean know how to fight because you can't always diffuse a situation. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 17:55
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    @developerwjk Uh, yeah, I get it, but consider... if you're getting mugged at gunpoint, it isn't really a good idea (at least for most people) to try to use martial arts to get out of it.
    – Casey
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 17:56

don't wait for the signal, cross in the other direction until you can cross the way you want to go

  • This is a dangerous thing to do, don't do this.
    – ave
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 20:08
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    No, it's saying to cross in the direction currently allowed by the signal, even if that direction is not the direction in which you actually want to cross. Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 4:54
  • This is actually good advice if you read it . . .
    – J Sargent
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 19:25

Life-Long NY'er here:

How can one escape this situation safely without giving out any money?

1) Don't dress like a tourist - that makes you a target.

2) You do what we do in NYC: IGNORE. Behave like a robot - you do not see them, hear them or have awareness of them. Just go about your business as if they are not there.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do; When in NYC, do as the NY'ers do

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