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"Swipers" hunt for outbound tourists at JFK

Hustling tourists for MetroCards in New York

Pete Donohue  Aug 16, 2010

Metrocard. Don't go home with it.

That's the pitch subway hustlers are making to tourists on their way to John F. Kennedy Airport and their flights back home.

"What are the tourists going to do with them?" explained one of the men, showing off a handful of MetroCards he had scored. "Throw them in the garbage? I can hustle and make a buck."

The fast-talkers collect MetroCards at two eastern Queens transit hubs that connect the subway system to the airport-bound AirTrain: Sutphin Blvd./Archer Ave. in Jamaica and Howard Beach.

With the still-valid MetroCards in hand, the so-called "swipers" then sell other straphangers entry into the subway system for less than the $2.25 fare.

Undercover police periodically make arrests for swipe-selling, but most get off with a slap on the wrist.

"If I got arrested, I'd be out the next morning," said the hustler who spoke to the Daily News.

The swindler - who called himself "J" - said he couldn't find legitimate work. But he can make between $30 to $80 a day selling swipes, he said.

"It keeps me full," he said.

One transit worker said some of the hustlers can be intimidating, if not menacing, to tourists laded down with baggage.

A few out-of-town travelers, easily identifiable as they wheeled their luggage through the hub, said they weren't fazed by being asked for their leftover MetroCards.

"At first it was uncomfortable for me, but then I thought someone was asking me for help and I should stop," said Masha Nebritova, 28, of Manhattan.

Nebritova, a photographer, kept her MetroCard. She's only going for a visit with relatives in Russia and will need it later.

William Snoeren, 20, of Holland, and a friend gave up their weekly MetroCards, which were still good for two more days.

"We don't need it," Snoeren said. "It's fine by me."

The MTA says it could use the revenue it loses when swipers sell trips that otherwise would be paid for.

Citing budget gaps, the MTA has cut service and laid off transit workers, including token booth clerks - who often are the ones to report such swipe-sellers to the police.

Hustling tourists for MetroCards in New York
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