She couldn’t move. Her gaze was glued to the woman. Had she been fooling her all this time? A million reasons raced through her mind. Maybe she was being lured. Maybe she was in danger.
But when the beggar willingly sat into the car, she knew something was wrong. Her body immediately lunged forward. She had to follow her. She had to know the truth. But she never expected to discover this woman’s web of lies.
Melissa Smith always did her errands in her hometown of San Diego, California. On every errand run, she could count on seeing the same friendly faces at her local grocery store. But there was one other person she could count on seeing—the panhandler.
However, on this particular day, Melissa believed that something was wrong. She followed her gut instinct and began to investigate. As she packed her bags into her car, she noticed the beggar and her little boy get up to leave their spot. But their next actions had her reaching for her phone.
This beggar was smart. She had claimed a small spot outside East Lake Village Center—a shopping plaza that contained grocery stores, restaurants, vintage stores, dentists, salons, clothing departments, sweet shops, florists, and jewelry stores.
There were constant consumers walking by with pockets full of change. The beggar knew the area would be full of people willing to donate some money once they noticed her big bump. But she never thought Melissa would be keeping tabs on her.
Although California is famous for its Hollywood residents, beautiful weather, impressive architecture, and national parks, it’s also notorious for its high number of homeless people. However, more often than not, some of these “homeless” are in fact impostors.
Melissa wasn’t a fool when it came to these con artists. However, after seeing the same pregnant woman every time she visited the store, she was convinced otherwise. “I felt bad. There’s a pregnant lady with a little boy who is down on her luck,” she explained. But she never expected her gut feeling to lead to this revelation.
Melissa saw the same woman stand in the scorching sun in stained clothes when she arrived, and hours later when she left. However, sometimes she had company. Melissa had seen a strange man with them on more than one occasion—she presumed it was her husband.
She had become well known in the area, and Melissa always noticed shoppers drop her hot drinks and sandwiches. They managed to stir the emotions of the public. Soon, they would have an extra member to help with their collection. But Melissa couldn’t contain her curiosity.
Melissa had began to pity the poor beggar. As if being homeless wasn’t hard enough, she also had a family to feed. For two months straight she passed her every time she went shopping.
Melissa thought she must have been desperate to stand in the scorching sun without a drop of water for hours on end. On top of that, she was heavily pregnant and braving the California Summer heat. But Melissa couldn’t let her suspicions go.
The pregnant woman had much experience. She knew what it would take to get the attention of customers and passersby. She knew what it would take to make them pity her. She created the perfect story—a mother and her young son fight for survival.
To get herself noticed, she held a cardboard sign with “please help” scrawled across in black ink. If they didn’t feel sorry for her little boy, they were bound to feel sorry for her unborn child. She made sure to hold the sign just above her bulging bump. Maybe she was genuine. But Melissa had to make sure.
Melissa lived close to the beggar’s favorite location. Usually, she did her shopping early before the after-school rush, but on this particular day, she had a craving for a fresh smoothie. It was nearly closing time and to her surprise, the woman was missing from her normal perch.
Understandably, Melissa was slightly worried. She hoped the woman was alright. But as Melissa turned on her car, she noticed that she was dangerously low on gas. Thankfully, there was a station located right across the road. Melissa pulled in and stepped out of her car. Then, she saw something. Little did she know, it would start an investigation.
Melissa noticed the pregnant beggar waiting around the side of the shopping complex. She continued to hold her sign in an attempt to get a few more pennies before going home. Then, a vehicle raced around the corner and headed straight towards her.
Who was the driver? Was the woman in trouble? And where was her little boy? But as her gaze rested on the vehicle that stopped beside the woman, her suspicions only grew. Was she looking too much into this?
Melissa was confused. What was she seeing? Was there something in her juice? The driver was none other than the woman’s partner. But that wasn’t the most surprising part.
The man was driving a Mercedes Benz—a luxury car well-known for its high-quality leather interiors and expensive price tags. What was the woman doing sitting into the luxurious vehicle? Melissa didn’t hesitate to act but later, she made headlines.
“They were leaving, and I noticed they went into a Mercedes Benz. I thought, ‘Wow, a Mercedes Benz?’” Melissa was shocked. Not only was the car an expensive brand, but it was spotless, practically brand new. Melissa jumped into her car and began to follow the couple.
She recorded the entire incident on her phone as she managed to catch up with the two, who were laughing uncontrollably. “Lo and behold, they were in front of us. Here they are counting money, laughing. Their little boy is not in a car seat or a seat belt. He’s all the way in the front seat with them,” Melissa shared. She couldn’t contain her anger. She couldn’t let them get away with this. She had to notify the public! But she never expected their lies to spin so far.
Melissa crept behind the two masterminds. To her surprise, they stopped outside yet another shopping center. The two had everything planned to the last detail. Then, the woman got out and took center stage. “She sits there with the sign. He goes [and] parks the Mercedes.
They put up the sign and not less than five minutes; here she is getting money from all these people,” Melissa explained. Finally, Melissa had caught her in the act. But she never expected her discovery to involve the authorities. Unbeknownst to her, she was just scratching the surface of something much more sinister.
Melissa was fearless. She marched right up to the woman and began to take pictures of her and her son. Was the little boy even her son? When they spotted Melissa, they turned vicious. They began to yell and scream at her, and even grabbed a huge rock that was anchoring their sign.
“Next thing I know, she picked up this big boulder,” Melissa said, “I don’t know if pregnant people can do that, but it was pretty big over her head and coming at me with this rock.” A woman close by witnessed the entire incident and decided to call the cops! But once the beggar saw another person with a phone, she grabbed her little boy by the hand and ran. They thought Melissa would give up, but she was persistent.
Melissa wasn’t going to let her get away that easy. She immediately posted everything on social media and then got in contact with the local news station. She had to let the residents know that they had been deceived. And those who were yet to fall victim to their facade had to be warned.
The news station was curious. What else were they hiding? They decided to run the plates from the Mercedes-Benz Melissa had managed to capture on video. In an unexpected turn of events, the car was registered to a woman’s name. However, the address was undisclosed. But the story of the fake paupers didn’t end there.
Journalists became obsessed with the story. They managed to trace the woman to Encinitas Heights Apartments. Residents of the apartment complex quoted the monthly rent at $2,500. Paper, magazine, and radio journalists knocked on the woman’s suspected address for days on end but no one answered.
The lights stayed off, and no one entered or exited the home. Then, new information spread. A young couple had just moved in. The couple who had resided there previously had packed up and left during the night without any notice. Melissa couldn’t believe the online response.
Melissa made sure to share the whole truth online and had pictures and videos as proof. Journalists contacted her for more information before sharing the story themselves.
“I feel bad. Don’t give these people money. They don’t need it. They’re driving a Benz,” she pleaded. Residents couldn’t believe her discovery. They were hurt and shocked by the woman’s actions. How could she prey on the pity of others? Then, one call caused journalists to grab their crew and leap to a new scene.
The panhandler had been spotted! Rebecca, a young woman who had heard the story while driving to her local shopping center, recognized the woman from the video Melissa had shared online.
She immediately commented under her post with a picture to prove her whereabouts. Once word reached Emily Valdez, she piled her crew into their van and drove. They refused to let her slip away again.
Valdez followed the tip. She raced around the shopping center in search of the mysterious woman. She came across multiple pregnant women who matched Melissa’s description, but none of them were beggars.
When she finally found the woman who matched the videos, she was perplexed. Wasn’t the woman pregnant? It had been two days since Melissa discovered the truth. Now, this woman was holding a baby. But Valdez didn’t hesitate.
“Is this you, begging?” Valdez held the microphone to the woman and waited for a response. The camera crew gained the perfect angle. Valdez reached for her phone to show her Melissa’s video. The woman stared at the phone. Then, her gaze rose to Valdez, and then to the camera.
“I don’ speak English,” she whispered. A small boy tugged at her jumper. Had Valdez managed to catch her? The little boy was the image of the online post. But then, as Valdez began to follow the woman up the street, her husband appeared.
“Keep the camera rolling!” Valdez wasn’t afraid of fighting for a good story. The man dismissed the cameramen and swept his family from the crew’s leer. But they followed the family up the street, around the corner, and watched them pile into the back of a minivan.
But this vehicle had dealer plates. Valdez was convinced it was them. She ran facial recognition on the woman from the video and the woman she had met that same day. To her delight, they were an 80% match. Valdez pondered over the woman’s partner. There was something about his reaction that made her believe there was more to uncover. And she was right.
Originally, the man had spoken to Valdez in Spanish. Then, he whispered something to his partner in another language. Valdez didn’t understand what he said, but she knew she had to find out. However, it was that very comment that was about to expose the truth he had worked so hard to conceal.
Valdez downloaded the footage, found the brief encounter, placed the headphones on her head, and pressed play. The throaty language played over and over again in her ears. What was he saying? Later, she received an unexpected phone call from an expert.
Leslie Albright, a retired detective, had seen Valdez’s short interview with the suspects. Leslie had worked as a crucial member of the force at the San Diego Police Department during the investigation of underground crime rings.
Over her career that spanned over 25 years, she became a specialist. Something about the story had her thinking. She had heard that language before, but where? Then, it hit her. This was no ordinary beggar. This was someone far more sinister.
The internet continued to search for the woman Melissa had caught in the act. Little did they know, a scam was about to be exposed. But there was more to this story than they first estimated. For years, residents had begun to notice a problem in the community.
California was portrayed as a city of hip culture and lavish lifestyles, but there was a problem festering, and it was getting worse by the day. But one Reddit user was adamant on exposing the truth. But there was a great risk to his intentions.
Leslie had spent years catching criminals. Beggars aren’t usually involved in any offenses, but when she heard this man speak in a foreign language, she knew there was much more to this story.
After she rewound Valdez’s interview and played the sentence, she knew he was speaking Romani. And she had seen their method to dismiss the press in the past. What else was this couple keeping from the public?
Detective Leslie was sure of the couple’s involvement with an organized crime ring she had spent years trying to disband. This particular group had started their ring following their illegal entry into the United States. Unfortunately, they commit crimes on a daily basis.
Over the years, Leslie had discovered their homes in inexpensive apartment blocks and their multiple vehicles, allowing them to scam multiple unsuspecting targets on more than one occasion. Leslie shared her conclusion—the man and woman were co-workers rather than lovers, and the pregnancy was one big scam. What else had this crime ring orchestrated? Unfortunately, there were more layers to this story.
Authorities have spent time and effort trying to bring these perpetrators to justice. However, they rarely stay in one spot long enough to be caught. Once the even suspect the residents are onto their act, they pack their few belongings into the back of their vans and flee.
And unsurprisingly, Melissa’s beggars had done exactly that. But when all seemed to be over and done with, one man stepped forward with information. He was about to shine a light on the mysterious couple.
An unnamed man came forward with information that threatened his own safety. Regardless, he shared the details on Reddit. “I had a friend of a friend tell me that they knew them and that they’re just a hustling pair of Con Artists whose families conned their way into the country.”
But he didn’t stop there. He claimed the woman had a tough beginning in life and was forced to work with the crime ring. But after sharing this information, he quickly deleted his profile. He feared the consequences to his whistleblowing. What would happen if they discovered his identity?
Later, more evidence surface. Turns out, the female beggar often stuffs her jumpers with foam in order to appear pregnant. And the fake belly manages to gain her over $500 daily. But she’s not the only one woman pretending to be pregnant in order to make cash.
Leslie explained that the workings of a crime ring are very complex, but it is the men who lead the operation. In exchange for a days work, men promise desperate women food and shelter. They are then dispatched around the country every morning and collected in the evening. Those at the top don’t distribute the profits fairly. Instead, they spend it on their own lavish lifestyles. Unfortunately, there’s more left to this story.
“They’ll use the babies, children, anyway they can… the children will not go to school because their job and their future is the Family Business,” Leslie later shared. These children are uneducated. To most, a life of crime is all they have ever known. “People should know, there’s plenty of service and organizations that exist to help people and especially for women with children.
They’re taking advantage of them all as well as scamming people at the parking lot entrances. Neither of them are reporting the money they’re making from her begging and both are claiming poverty to get state and federal assistance,” the anonymous Reddit user also shared. But then, the informant began to receive threatening phone calls. Before they removed all traces of themselves online, they had one last thing to add.
“They might be up and trying this scam again or it might be another woman either way call the cops on them, making sure to tell the dispatch that they’re “the BMW scammers” so they’re identified and the state can start the proper deportation proceedings against them… don’t help any of them or give money to any of the panhandlers you might see.” The Reddit user’s caution was clear.
Leslie’s former team are still working tirelessly to pinpoint those at the top of the underground organization. Thanks to Melissa’s intuition, she managed to expose the truth behind these beggars. But if these criminals can’t be caught, will they ever stop?