You’ve Been Scammed

We spend a lot of our time on Zelda & Scout trying to figure out what exactly makes someone a New Yorker. We’re transplants, both of us, uprooted from our bluegrass homes. Most days, it feels like we’ve put down roots in Brooklyn, blooming in the borough where we have planted ourselves for the foreseeable future. But having made a home in New York and being a New Yorker are two very different things.

To judge by most pop cultural representations, a New Yorker is someone who is tough, blunt, confident. They suffer no fools and waste no time. New Yorkers are savvy, some would even say jaded. Their concrete environs have made them tough, able to withstand whatever bullshit comes their way. The rat race makes scrappy competitors of them all. In short, you do not mess with New York City.

Now I have also found New Yorkers to be incredibly kind. If you trip on the sidewalk, someone will help you up (not so in Paris, mes amis, even if you have been hit by a bus, but that is a story for another day). If you ask (politely and concisely) for directions, they’ll point you the right way. If you sneeze on the subway, someone will bless you. But many of the stereotypes do ring true. And on most days, I feel like I have adapted to the better parts of the New Yorker mold. I walk my neighborhood’s sidewalks with confidence, I don’t glance up when the calls of “showtime” ring through my subway car, and usually when somebody asks me for directions, I can point them down the correct path. Sunday, however, was not one of those days.

I was walking home from the subway when it happened. It was a slow news night, so I had gotten off early, and I was appreciating the last tinges of twilight still illuminating the sky. I had a podcast in my ears and leftover Easter chocolate waiting for me at home. And then a man stopped me and began to spin a tale.

He told me he was a fashion designer in town from California. He had been scouting the neighborhood for locations for an editorial spread when he hailed a gypsy cab to take him to his next spot. The car drove off with the door still open, half his stuff — hoop skirts, Vivienne Westwood platform heels, his phone — still in there. He didn’t realize the unregistered cars were illegal, he said. He’d gone to the cops but they said there wasn’t anything he could do. They wouldn’t drive him back to his hotel.

My New York senses tingled, as they do whenever a stranger approaches me in public, and especially if their entreaty has a whiff of monetary demands. But this guy had me Google him, pointing out photos of him with his designs on the red carpet of a fashion awards show. He kept apologizing for stopping me. I’ve never had to do this, he said. I’m not from here.

My ex-pat heart understood that. He seemed frazzled and scared, at sea in unfamiliar terrain. I’ve never fallen prey to a gypsy cab myself, but I have friends who have. And the picture was there, clearly matching his face. That’s when he made his pitch: He had found a cab that would take him and his stuff home, but he didn’t have any money. Someone else had already given his some. He needed $18 more. Could I please help?

I only had $2 in my wallet, but we were oh-so-conveniently standing in front of a bodega with an ATM. I took out $20, gripping it uncertainly. He gave me his email, told me what to notate in the subject line so he could pay me back once he had his phone. He was slick. The Google result was there. So I handed over the cash and, with a huge hug and a thank you, off he went.

Walking the rest of the way I felt torn. I tried to tell myself that I had done a good deed. I had proven correct all the things I always said when defending the city to my non-New York friends. People here are good at heart, and they’ll give you a hand when you need it. It had been a mitzvah to help this guy out, an act of generosity that he would hopefully pay forward the next time he came upon a stranger in a crisis. Fresh off the heels of Passover, I thought: An Elijah had come knocking, and I had let him in.

But the doubt wouldn’t quite settle, gnawing at the pit of my stomach. I’m normally an optimistic person, but something cynical in me was raising its eyebrows. So when I got back to my apartment, I googled the name in the Gmail address he’d given me. The first few results were about fashion, an obituary for an older relative. And then I saw the fifth result — from Ripoff Report.

“For people like myself who show too much empathy, don’t get taken advantage of [by] one Randuel Sandiford,” the poster wrote. “He approached me on the street with a story about being a designer stranded during New York Fashion Week who had much of his stuff taken by a town car.” They described the pictures he’d shown them from the IED designer awards. They, like me, felt bad for the guy and thought he didn’t seem “too shady.” They gave him some cash and sent him on his way. I’m sure you can see where this is going: He never responded to their emails or messages, and they were never paid back.

My heart sank into the pit of my stomach. I was just so angry: at this man, Randuel Sandiford, for taking advantage of me and ripping me off, but even more so at myself. I should have known better, should have been on my guard.  I’m a journalist, damn it. Why didn’t I pay closer attention to the holes in his story? And for all the time and work I’ve put in over the last four and a half years to carve a niche out for myself in this city, I felt like I had just failed an essential New Yorker test. I was a sucker. I was weak. I had let this city down.

I debated whether to write about this, because part of me is still embarrassed at having been conned. But ultimately what the Ripoff Report poster said convinced me I should. “I don’t suspect that anyone reading this might find themselves in the same situation with him,” they wrote, “but because he has a fraud online presence I’m putting this out there in the hopes that the next time he tries to google himself to prove himself to another victim, this post will pop up.” New Yorkers have each other’s backs. This poster did. So even though I’d like to forget this ever happened, I will, too.

I sent Randuel Sandiford an email last night. I do not expect him to respond. In the grand scheme of things, $20 is not too much to lose. I hope he needed it more than I do. A commenter on Ripoff Report replied that they had also fallen prey to his scam. “It’s unbelievable how low people will stoop to take advantage of people’s kindness,” they said. “Never again!! This guy is a creep!!!” The complaints were from 2015. I found another from 2017. Clearly he doesn’t feel bad.

But instead of continuing to kick myself, I’m going to choose to cultivate one of New Yorkers’ other typical traits. Yeah, I got fooled. I was taken advantage of, and that makes me feel icky and angry and ashamed. But New Yorkers do not stay knocked down. They persevere. They get back up. They don’t let some asshole change who they are or impede how they live their lives. So maybe I haven’t failed my New Yorker test. Maybe this is it. I am an empathetic person who wants to believe that people are, more often than not, good at heart. And I refuse to let Randuel Sandiford, or anyone else, change that.


  • How awful!

    It’s hard to know who to trust, and once in a while, we’ll be wrong.

    While we’re on the topic, there is a guy at Port Authority who pops up from time to time, saying he just needs a few dollars to get home. It can be convincing, but I’ve seen him several times. I haven’t seen him in the past year, so maybe he got nabbed once and for all.

    Funny reading your last paragraph– I just wrote the same thing in my last post– that in spite of all this, I believe most people are good.


  • I met him tonight off of Nostrand and Eastern Parkway. Too bad I didn’t find your post prior to handing over some cab fare, but, like you said, it’s just life. I think staying empathetic in a world that makes it easy not to is valuable. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Thanks for writing this! I found this article right before I got scammed by him. Your courage saved me 🙏🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  • Just happened to my sister and I outside the Bank of America ATM on Kingston Av and Eastern Parkway. He gave us both estimates of our sizes, asked us to google him and asked for my email and then asked for $25.00 more for a cab fare because his town car took off with all his belongings and shoes that he borrowed that cost 2000.00. Fortunately we googled him and an image came up saying ” Randuel Sandiford SCAM ARTIST”. He then said that he’s an addict! I felt empathetic toward him and only gave him a dollar. Here’s hoping no one else falls for this charlatan, because We almost did,he’s so convincing and seems sincere. Thank you for writing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Just happened to me on Fulton and Albany. Crazy, that he asked me to google him and IED awards. I wanted to share a little kindness in this mean world. I hope he used the money for food or rent.

    Liked by 1 person

  • This happened to me on my way home from work yesterday!!
    This man is seriously unbelievable.
    Unfortunately I believed his story, but was still skeptical because his teeth looked like that of a crack head/ meth addict (lol).
    I didn’t end up giving him money though because when I told him I didn’t have any cash on me he continued to pressure me to use an ATM.
    When I refused to take money out for him (more than once) he became increasingly agitated. He proceeded to grab my arm in an attempt get me into a nearby bodega.
    It made me VERY uncomfortable that this man would put his hands on me and I got out of there fast!!!
    Be careful and stay safe friends!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • i was so scared he would harrass me if i went with him to atm. sorry he grabbed you like that! it’s assault. the police should pick him up for that, especially if he gets dangerous when you refuse him.


  • I know Ranuel from a long . way back. 25 years ago he sublet an apartment from, fell 3 months behind in rent, damaged the front door and kitchen and disappeared. On a whim I decided to google his name, checked the photo. It’s him. THIS GUY IS A SHYSTER, CON MAN. Don’t talk to him!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  • This JUST happened to me on Nostrand and Union. I felt bad for him. Ugh. He used the exact same script. When he took my 20 he even joked that this looked a drug deal, and I laughed.
    Thanks so much for writing this article.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Yes, I ran into this man yesterday morning on my way to work. I just left my house and he stopped me with the same story and same gimmick. I gave him some money feeling sorry.


  • Wow, this just happened to me yesterday on Rockaway Avenue. I wish I would have been smart and asked for his full name to google it. I’m down on my luck right now and I literally gave him my last $20 because I thought to myself, what if that had been me. It’s a shame how heartless and selfish people could be. Now I have no money to buy lunch for the rest of the week. I hate when people take advantage of those with a good heart.


  • I feel absolutely stupid for not googling his name when he first gave me his email. I saw him on Fulton st. He told me he was a designer who went to parsons and lost his equipment. He swore up and down that he was gonna pay me back plus the fees. After interacting with him I went home and googled him and here I am. BIG lesson learned.


  • He conned me out of my last $20 10 years ago when I was an intern scraping by with two side jobs trying to get into fashion. His story really resognated with me then, but on my walk home, I knew I had been had and that $20 was basically my lunch for the next week. I’m lucky now because I think it was just $20 but that was SO much to me then. I think about that experience and him all the time, so thank you for this. I feel like I can put a little closure on that and not feel so stupid for falling victim to his scam.


  • This literally happened to me on Jefferson and broadway right underneath the train, I’ve been in New York for a few years but I believed him because I thought how could that happen. It wasn’t my last but damn near was, I have him 25 dollars. He was really convincing I must say but be careful out there , I know I will next time!


  • Indeed, Randuel is at it again. Almost got conned an hour ago in Bed-Stuy at Macon and Throop. It was a good story but once I asked his name, which he gave as Randuel THOMAS, and nothing came up, I knew something was up. When I told him I was uncomfortable, he left. I looked Randuel and IED awards up when I got home, and saw him listed on scam sites. Thanks for creating a presence about this scam online.


  • This just happened to me today 😅 oh well, I guess if this guy is scamming this many people, he needs the money more than we do!! Good luck to him, I guess 😂


  • Sandiford got me tonight. In Brooklyn. Same story, hoop skirts. I kept offering to just get him a ride him in an Uber. According to him the cab had stolen his clothes but they were now at a police precinct and he needed to get to the police precinct and then a car to get home with his stuff. I knew the whole time he had to be a scam but my heart was soft and it was clear he had fallen on some hard times. He got $22.00 from me. Oy vey! At least be is polite.


  • thank god for this article. he approached me and i wanted to go the long way to the atm, one nearer to my train stop. and as we walked the couple blocks i google him again this came up. im so glad you put your story out here. i feel like such a fool for letting him take advantage of me. thank god i didn’t go with him to an unfamiliar atm. i just thought it safer to stop at the bodega i usually stop at, instead of the one closer by. more witnesses i guess. i told him I didn’t have my wallet, forgotten it at home. i did say im a college student rushing off to school. that’s when he pressed me for cash. i feel awful.


  • I actually know Randuel Sandiford, he and I went to High School together in Jasper, Alabama. Randy, this is what I called him, was a very talented artist and clothing designer with a lot of promise. Randy moved away from his mother and father back in the early nineties to go live in New York along with his older brother. I only saw Randy a few times after his move but something changed in him. He worked at Barneys of New York for a while but I believe his dream of being a successful designer was slowly crushed over the years. Randy was a friend and I sincerely apologize for the harm he’s done to everyone he’s scammed. I only hope God will intervene and turn Randy around but for now I can only offer my apologies.


  • Just got scammed by him tonight on Tompkins Ave in Bed Stuy. Fell for it all just like you and reading this makes me feel a little better because this is exactly how I feel right now!


  • He got me this morning. Malcolm X and DeKalb in Bedstuy. Son of a bitch, it’s 2020 and people are miserable – everyone is going through a rough time and I was just trying to have a little faith in humanity and do something good for someone and it bit me in the ass. FUCK THIS MAN. FUCK HIM TO HELL.


  • I just got scammed tonight around the intersection of Fulton and Kingston at Brooklyn. Everything was exactly the same. He was acting soo good that he got rid of all my doubts. I was holding the 20$ bill in my hand for the last 6 minutes while he was still telling me passionately about his designs. He managed to bring my guard down (which maybe wasn’t that strong..) And now when you google for “IED Awards” the first picture to show up actually points that he is a scammer. But we were looking at my phone together, it was very cold and I had my gloves so he somehow managed to skip that image and managed to show the one he wanted me to see. I am having the exact feelings with you.. One update though, he now uses “Howard Sandiford” as the mail address…


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