Just how honest are those people you see begging on the street for cash?
Despite their bedraggled appearances, some of those poor panhandlers might not be as disabled as they look.
INSIDE EDITION found one wheelchair-bound guy, who pushes himself around the streets of Lexington, Kentucky, looking for handouts all day long. He apparently has a physical and mental disability that forces him to use a wheelchair and also results in slurred speech and clenched hands.
Gary Thompson, the 30-year-old street beggar, rolls up to kind-hearted people asking them in a distinctively slurred speech: “Give me money to get some eat.”
By all appearances, Thompson certainly seems like a sympathetic soul. But appearances can be very deceiving. As it turns out, Thompson’s speech impediment is all an act.
When questioned about his act, Thompson suddenly changed his speech from slurred to normal, “Ma, ma, ba, ba. - I'm just playing. I gotta go y'all. I gotta make some money.”
It was a startling admission. “I’m really good at it, really good," Thompson confessed.
Lexington police say Thompson is a total fraud and combs the streets pulling on the heartstrings of generous pedestrians. Records show he’s been arrested multiple times this year for begging and theft by deception, but was released.
And get this--he says his scheme nets him a six-figure salary. “I clear $100,000 a year doing this,” said Thompson.
The con-artist does have difficulty walking from a childhood accident, but police say he's by no means confined to that wheelchair.
Kristen Pflum of WLEX-TV in Lexington, Kentucky, exposed Thompson’s cruel con.
“It’s all pretend. It’s a fraud and he's making a lot of money doing it,” said Pflum. “I said, ‘You’re busted now. You'll never make money again working for cash in Lexington.' And he said no quote: ‘I'll drop the retard act because people still give money to people in wheelchairs.' "
INSIDE EDITION’s Lisa Guerrero found a similar charade taking place in New York City last year.
Hunched over and using double arm crutches, another lady we saw begging on street corners certainly looked sad and desperate.
We watched her cup fill up with cash donations while she hobbled up and down Manhattan's ritzy Fifth Avenue. But we were suspicious, so we followed her home one evening and found her routine was also all an act.
Once her ‘work’ shift was over, our cameras caught her changing out of her begging clothes and walking perfectly normal without any crutches. The transformation was quite a miracle!
So, how does she do it? When it's time to go to "work", she changes in the back of a van and voila! She's ready for another day of bent over bogus begging.
Guerrero later caught up with this bogus beggar doing her routine on Fifth Avenue.
"We've been watching you the past few days and you don't really need those crutches do you?” asked Guerrero.
But like any good actor, she never broke character.
“Look, the jig is up. Why don’t you walk normally like you did this morning,” said Guerrero. But the bogus beggar hobbled away.
So, whether it’s a guy in a wheelchair or a lady bent over, experts say you should generally avoid panhandlers with sob stories and only give to legitimate charitable organizations.