Anyone know what this scam is all about? Never heard of it. Appreciate any info. thanks!
Sounds like somebody dumps stuff on your shirt and does the deed while helping you clean up.
That's an old scam (but somewhat effective). I've encountered this several times. This is basically how it works......
Someone approaches you in a station (or wherever) and informs you that there's mustard / pigeon droppings or whatever on your coat, and they graciously offer to help you clean it off. There may or may not actually be something on your clothing. If there is mustard or whatever, it was put there by the scammer using a squeeze bottle or whatever. Of course you have to put your luggage down to perhaps take your jacket off or otherwise co-operate with this helpful individual. You can either be pick pocketed during the process OR the worse scenario is that while he's cleaning, he keeps moving you away from your bags. At the appointed time, one or more accomplices dart out from the shadows and your bags are gone! I know for a fact this occurs, as I know someone that was victimized in this way.
Here are a few descriptions of this scam....
http://bobarno.com/thievery/ (the author of this is an expert on the subject, and he has some good tips in the article)
A somewhat darker scenario that I've heard of but not experienced, is the helpful individual appears in a doorway and after informing you of the mess on your clothing, asks you to come into his house to clean off the offending substance. Once inside and out of view, the unwary visitor is held up by the scammer and his accomplices who take everything.
The last time I encountered this was in Brussels Central. I told the individual in a somewhat brusque manner to "take a hike" and that I'd deal with it on my own. He got the message and disappeared. When I got to the hotel, I found there was absolutely nothing on my Backpack or clothing.
Ed & Ken, thanks for the information. I've encountered the ring scam, petition girls, and bracelet guys but the mustard thing was new to me. What will they think of next?
Consider any distraction with suspicion. More fun scams at http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/theft-scams/tourist-scams.