She was paralyzed as she tried to figure out what to do next. She was so upset that she had been deceived. But her eyes were clear now and they watched as the panhandler got in a car. That’s how she knew for sure. Then, she decided to follow her so she could uncover the truth. But as everything started to unfold, more and more clues began to surface.
Melissa Smith, from San Diego, California, was running a couple of errands when she noticed the beggar. This wasn’t the first time, but something felt off. So, Smith listened to her gut and started to investigate. At first, she stood by her car. That’s when she saw the beggar and her young son leave. But what she witnessed next left her scrambling to find her phone.
The East Lake Village Center was the beggar’s preferred spot. The shopping plaza offered a wide array of stores like Goodwill, hairstylists, retail, dentists, and restaurants. The pregnant panhandler was well aware that this area would be crawling with folks with extra cash in their pockets and purses. But she was completely unaware that Smith was actually on to her.
California is full of homeless people and panhandlers, but not all of them are legit. There are imposters among the ranks. It’s why Smith had a bad vibe about this particular woman. She tried to push the feeling away, but kept seeing her on the weekends. “I felt bad. There’s a pregnant lady with a little boy who is down on her luck,” said Smith. It turns out that her instincts were right all along.
The beggar was often seen out in the sun, but it wasn’t always just her and her son. Sometimes, the little boy was standing there with his dad too. The family was well known and memorable. After all, there aren’t a lot of pregnant beggars roaming around the city. This touched a lot of people’s hearts. So, whenever they saw them, people would give them a little extra cash because of the special circumstances they were in. But what did this beggar do to make Smith want to spy on her?
Until that day, Smith had no reason to question the beggar’s motives. She had noticed the pregnant woman standing in the same area for more than two months. Smith assumed that the woman was desperate for money. She couldn’t imagine how difficult it must have been to stand there in the summer heat for hours while being pregnant. Then, something the woman did made Smith very suspicious.
The pregnant woman was a boss when it came to the art of begging. She realized she could easily earn sympathy from passersby at the shopping center. So, she came up with the perfect plan. She knew a pregnant beggar and her son would tug at people’s heartstrings. Holding a cardboard that said “Please Help” was like icing on the cake. Everyone who saw her was more than happy to give the woman cash. It was only a matter of time before the truth came out, at least Smith hoped it would.
Smith had never driven to the shopping center at that specific time, but she lived nearby. She often limited running errands to one hour in the morning. But as she headed home, she noticed that her car was running on fumes. Then, she noticed a gas station near the East Lake Village Center. So, Smith pulled in to fill her tank. That’s when something interesting caught her attention, and it’s how her entire investigation took place.
Smith noticed the pregnant beggar had started to walk away while she put gas in her car. This wasn’t too suspicious. The beggar had been walking out in the sun for hours and needed to rest. But as Smith watched, she saw that a car drove towards the woman. This peaked Smith’s curiosity. So, she decided to get to the bottom of things. With a cautious eye, she started to spy on the beggar. And what she saw convinced her that something wasn’t quite right.
Smith couldn’t believe what she was seeing. As she took a closer look, she noticed that the driver was the father of the beggar’s little boy. But he was driving a luxurious Mercedes Benz, which was worth a ton of money. So, how did these beggars get their hands on something so expensive? Smith was determined to find out, and her actions made the news.
“They were leaving, and I noticed they went into a Mercedes Benz. I thought, ‘Wow, a Mercedes Benz?'” said Smith, who claimed the car looked brand new. Smith got in her car and followed the beggars. She also used her phone to document everything. Then she parked opposite of the luxurious vehicle. “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,” said Smith. She felt utterly betrayed, and knew she had to wrap up her investigation and then let everyone know they’d been duped.
Smith decided to follow the car as the beggars drove to another shopping center nearby. It was clear this couple had come up with a master plan. Once the Mercedes Benz stopped, the pregnant beggar got out and continued to scam everyone. “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,” said Smith. But she had proof. Now she had to figure out what to do with it?
Smith got closer to the beggar and her boy. Then, she took a couple of pictures. But the woman spotted her and grew angry. She began yelling. Then, she grabbed the big rock that held up her sign. “Next thing I know, she picked up this big boulder,” said Smith. “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.” Fortunately, a witness saw the whole incident and called the police. But as soon as the beggar realized the authorities were alerted, she grabbed her son and made a run for it.
Smith posted everything she had on social media and contacted a news station. She wanted to warn everyone that these beggars were shady. No one deserved to fall for their insidious tricks. The news station was interested in the story too. So, they ran the plates on the Mercedes Benz, which Smith took a photo of. To their shock, the luxurious vehicle was in the pregnant woman’s name. But they found that her address was undisclosed.
Journalists decided to continue Smith’s investigation. They discovered that the woman lived in an apartment complex called Encinitas Heights. According to the resident there, the rent is $2,500 per month. Reporters knocked on the beggar woman’s door but no one answered. Then they got a call. It turns out that the people living there had recently moved in after the couple before them had simply left.
Smith’s content went viral on social media. But news outlets spread the word even further as they reported the story of the pregnant beggar with a luxurious car. “I feel bad. Don’t give these people money. They don’t need it. They’re driving a Benz,” said Smith. But as more and more people became aware of the deception, one call made reporters investigate further.
Rebecca was minding her own business while doing some shopping when she realized that she had seen the same beggar at a different shopping center. So, she gave the journalists a ring with all the information. Moments later, Emily Valdez arrive at the scene.
Valdez was assured that the beggar would be in the area, so she started looking for the mysterious woman throughout the shopping center. But when she caught up to her, she was blown away. Why wasn’t she pregnant? Smith had taken a photo of the beggar two days earlier, but the woman standing in front of her had a baby in her arms.
Valdez and her camera crew walked up to the beggar. “Is this you, begging?” Valdez asked her as she showed her the photo of the pregnant beggar on her phone. The woman stared at the photo for a moment, and then claimed she didn’t know English. Had they just caught her? The woman holding a baby, who also had a little boy next to her, was identical to the woman in the photo. Then her husband arrived.
The man tried to get rid of the camera crew. Then he took his family across the parking lot. The camera crew followed them as they got in a minivan with dealer plates. But the journalists had another idea. They used facial recognition software on both women and it was an 80% match. They never shared any more info on the case. But at least everyone will be a little more cautious about handing money to beggars.