(WJLA) -The woman is crying, holding her white plastic rosary around her neck. She has been in a car accident and needs to get to her 4-year old daughter, waiting for her at daycare. All she needs is cash for the 2-hour taxi ride home.
Of course, it's a scam.
But what makes this one different: the woman is entirely believable. She's dressed like a professional. She cries real tears. She explains she'll pay you back the next day, names a meeting point, gives her work address, offers her mother's DC police officer badge number, and even lets you dial her cell phone number, which rings in her hand. For some, she prays over her rosary, thanking God for sending an angel, a hero. And then she convinces you to give her all the cash you have.
Jen Lieberman was walking across the Key Bridge Halloween night, when the woman, who called herself Jessica Matthew, approached Lieberman with her standard sob story.
"She said her daughter was the last one in the daycare and she was supposed to take her trick-or treating. She'd been up late sewing the hem of her daughter's Cinderella costume. She was very convincing and kept looking up and crying and asking me to help her," Lieberman said. "She's a very good actress. Her tears were real."
"Jessica" asked Lieberman to take her to an ATM for a $200 cab fare, but Lieberman drew the line at her wallet and handed over the $60 cash she had on hand. The woman encouraged Lieberman to dial her phone number to make sure she had it saved. They arranged to meet at Ruby Tuesday in Rosslyn the next evening at 5 p.m.
The woman hugged Lieberman before they parted ways. "I swear to God I will pay you back," she promised, according to Lieberman. "Thank God for sending me my hero."
Back at home, Lieberman described the encounter to her roommate, Jess Minton.
"And you said her name was Jessica?" Minton asked in disbelief. She had heard the story before.
A week earlier, Minton ran into a friend outside one of the Farragut Metro Station entrances. The friend was talking to a well-dressed African American woman, about 5'10 and perhaps 250 pounds, her black straight hair in a small bun, a tiny scar by her right eye, and a white plastic rosary around her neck. The two were praying. Minton, who knew her friend was deeply religious, thought that would be her friend's only act of kindness to a stranger. But later she found out, the friend forked over $200 cash.
"We bonded over our name." Minton added emphatically, "Having met her, she was so human, so believable."
After the roommates swapped stories, Lieberman searched "Jessica's" cell phone number using Google. An on-line forum for the number 571-296-3544 revealed seven more victims since October of 2012 who shared the very same details. The victims titled themselves "Stupid in Ballston," "Stupid in Metro Center," and "Stupid at L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station," for having given the woman anywhere from $20 to $200 in cash without reimbursement.
"Upset in Bethesda" wrote: "Using people's emotions against them ... that's pretty frickin' messed up."
"Angry in Van Ness" called her "this trash of a human being."
Minton and Lieberman are not angry, they'd just like to help stop her from scamming the next Good Samaritan. Neither had filed a police report yet. Oftentimes, victims are too embarrassed to report these crimes to police, because they feel they should have known better. But unless police are notified, they can't connect the dots, put out an alert, or hope to make an arrest.
"We are unaware of any reports of this," said Gwendolyn Crump of the Metropolitan Police Department. As of Friday evening, Arlington County Police had not returned requests for information.
"I still hold on to the thought that maybe she did do something positive with the money for her kids, even if she got it in a dishonest way," said Minton.
Though she is an optimist too, Lieberman knows when she's been had. The cell number now leads to a rapid busy signal. As of 5:57pm on Friday night, "Jessica" was a no-show at Rosslyn's Ruby Tuesday.
"She's probably busy scamming someone else right now," Lieberman said.