It happens in most every city, large or small, and trying to avoid it is almost impossible, because when it strikes, there is typically little or no warning.  Beware of the...

Panhandler!  Let me first characterize the typical out-of-luck citizen I'm referring to here:

After buying one red onion, a cantaloupe, some "little friskies", and two gallons of o.j., I made my oblivious walk back to the car parked in the supermarket parking lot.

Not that my 1974 lime green Ford Pinto is all that, but I like to park it away from other vehicles, because I don't want other drivers frightened by its presence.

In the distance, I could see a man coming towards me from the other side of the parking lot, but abruptly stopped five parking spaces shy of intercepting me, only to do a 360 and get into the passenger side of a very late model "Caddy".

I still had about 20 yards or so until I got to my own relic, approaching it on the driver's side.  The "Caddy" came from out of nowhere stopping next to my luxury mode of transportation on the passenger side.  That's when I realized I was a marked man.  The driver of the vehicle jumped out and politely asked for "...just some change to get enough gas back to Hudson."  His buddy (the one who originally approached me) sat quietly in the front seat.

Now I'm a giving guy and don't mind helping someone out when the chips are down, and splurging for $1.38 worth of gas which would have easily covered the 4 mile trip, would have made me feel good.  But, I can smell a con a mile away.

I invited my new found friends to follow me up the road to the gas station.  "Couldn't you just lend me a couple bucks", he said.  Admittedly, I would have felt better if I was packin' because these guys could have been parolees, or even worse, serial killers. I'm a staunch supporter of not agitating strangers that invade my air space.

I replied that I was out of cash, the car I was driving was a loaner from a friend, and that mixing the cat food with the cantaloupe was tonight's dinner.  Sometimes a quick piece of humor relaxes everyone.  I further stated that I could only charge enough gas on my friends credit card for these guys to complete their trip.  Again, two of them and one of me were not good odds, since I missed taking Bruce Lee's 13 day free karate course as a kid.

My final offer was declined, with a "thanks anyway".  Con!!  Plain and simple.  They sped out of the parking lot as if Sheriff Lobo was on their trail - driving in the opposite direction of Hudson!

Give these guys some credit though.  They were in a car, so the believability factor increased greatly.  That's what reeled me in, but then I had to be sure.  Should you ever be approached, the most obvious answer for safety issues would be, "I don't have any extra money".

Be wary of panhandlers asking for gas money with no vehicle in sight.  If you feel daring, you can always ask them where their car is, along with the color, make and model.  Then, tell the unfortunate soul you can put a couple bucks of gas in your portable gas tank, and meet him at his car.  Nobody has ever taken me up on that offer.

Keep in mind, vulnerability is a weakness that criminals prey on, so in other words: