Londoners lukewarm on free £5 notes


A price comparison website, ran a experiment on the streets of London and Manchester:

[Representatives] wandered the streets this morning wearing sandwich boards offering a free £5 note to anyone who asked. Despite encountering over 1800 people, only 28 passers by bothered to take advantage of the offer.

The experiment also found a stark difference in the attitudes of men and women. On the streets of London and Manchester, all but 7 of the people who claimed the free cash were men and the research backed this up further. In a poll of 2000 people almost two thirds of women (64 per cent) said they would not claim the free fiver, compared to 41 per cent of money-shy men.

Link (via Arbroath)


  1. Why is this surprising? I wouldn’t have taken him up on the offer either — I would have assumed that it was a scam of some sort. Yes, true, it wasn’t, but nobody could know that.

  2. If not a scam I would have thought he would try to sell me something. On the other hand, £5, thats $10 US right? I think I might have taken it after debating to myself for a while.

  3. I wonder what the reasons given were, either for refusal or acceptance.

    I wonder how many were honest enough not to want something for nothing.

  4. They encountered 1800 people. Does that mean they talked to 1800 people or they are guessing that 1800 people would have walked by a representative.

    I’m pretty sure if I had my iPod running and I was on my way somewhere, I’d just dismiss the guy as a crackpot without even slowing.

  5. the article omits to mention that the sandwich board conceals the fact that he is only wearing cut-off trouser legs tied above the knee with string

  6. I’d be interested in the results where the offer is made by a cute gal with a nice smile rather than this somewhat scary-looking dude.

  7. “Guy dressed as a scam isn’t approached”.

    If you’ve ever walked the streets of a major UK conurbation, it’s writ pretty large you steer clear of these people. If these guys are doing a genuine sociological experiment, the results back up anecdotal experience. If they’re not, thanks for continuing to advertise them Mark! Bring on credit crunch zero hour!

  8. ..honest enough not to want something for nothing.


    What does that even mean? If you can get something for nothing, it is dishonest to accept it? Gifts? Wild fruit? Special offers? Food samples at the market? Casual Sex (ok, this one takes some form of input)? Unconditional love? Sunlight? A guy with a sandwich-board giving away free fivers?

    I thought the best things in life were free. I musta missed a memo.

  9. As a resident of London, I’m not surprised by this. As a pedestrian you’re constantly asked if you want a free newspaper every 50 metres whether you want one or not. Anything out of the ordinary (in terms of a social encounter) usually has a commercial agenda behind it (excluding flash mobs). It’s loathsome to accept the hook and find yourself being sold to on some level. Since we live in one of the most controlled cities on Earth, you always feel social intercourse (to use the Victorian expression) is constantly being devalued by parasitic acts PR. Let’s face it, this wasn’t the Milgram experiment – it was a publicity stunt for MoneySupermarket. Londoners sensibly ignored it.

    If he’d offered £10, then he might have had more luck.

  10. From the article: “This exercise reveals a fundamental inertia which is stopping people from making sensible financial decisions,” said Tim Moss, head of loans and debt at “This was a completely genuine, no strings attached offer. People simply had to approach the sandwich board wearer and ask for a fiver.”

    What they don’t explain is just how people were supposed to know it was a genuine, no-strings-attached offer. Giving people a gift, even a gift they don’t want, forces them into a position where they feel they have to reciprocate. It’s a classic sales and scamming technique.

    Personally, I feel like giving up my chance at the occasional string-free five pound note is more than worth not having to deal with all of the pressure to reciprocate that arises after accepting other free “gifts.”

  11. “This exercise reveals a fundamental inertia which is stopping people from making sensible financial decisions”

    BS. As many people have pointed out, the sensible decision was actually to pass the offer up. Most people assumed that this would be some kind of scam that would either expose them to additional financial loss or at best waste their time — which is very valuable. It was simply not enough money to risk the unknown costs. The decision NOT to engage by most people was COMPLETELY rational.

  12. The decision NOT to engage by most people was COMPLETELY rational.

    First, typing in caps doesn’t so much prove your point as make you sound like you’re ranting.

    Second, it’s only rational if you believe that the world is a hostile place filled with people who are out to get you. If you believe that, you have my sympathy, but I would still have £5 more than you.

  13. Yeah… a man with a hand-written sign standing on a London street offering fivers. It’s just too unlikely to seem genuine.

    I also notice that, in the picture above, he is standing on Tottenham Court Road. Fifty yards behind him on the left is the office of the Church of Scientology. I walk along that section of street quite often and I don’t accept anything from anyone, lest I find myself taking a ‘free stress test’.

    This is a worthless piece of fake research (wait, worthless AND fake? I should have expressed that better. Never mind, moving on…) which has solely been conducted in order to get ‘soft’ media stories from the press release with the results. What a nice easy way of getting your company’s web address plastered all over various media. Oh look, it worked. There’s your real psychology.

  14. If it had been me? I would have immediately assumed that a “free personality test” was a prerequisite for the fiver. And that the fiver would somehow have to be picked up at headquarters at the next meeting.

  15. How much does it cost for a full-page advert on boingboing and a thouand other pages? 28 x £5 = £140. Can I have one for the same price?

  16. I’d be tempted, but my mind would be racing with all the possibilities.

    Is it a scam? Is it like the Hare Krishnas who offer “free” stickers but once you grab them won’t let them go until you give a “donation”? Is it some weird social experiment that I will get dragged into? Will I end up in the middle of someone’s performance art piece? Is there a hidden camera somewhere and I’m going to be humiliated on TV? When I take the money will some tabloid TV journalist jump out of the bushes, stick a microphone in my face and accuse me of God-knows-what?

    By the time I went through all of that I would decide it wasn’t worth the risk and would have passed the guy anyway.

    No, all this experiment shows that people are sensibly wary after being bitten too many times.

  17. The reason I find it surprising is that it only takes one person doing it to serve as proof it’s genuine. After the first person gets his free £5 note, why aren’t a whole bunch of people who witness that suddenly crowing around the guy, and getting on their mobiles to tell friends, and such?

  18. The high-traffic streets of London are a sh*thole of people trying to hand you fliers and free newspapers and panhandlers. It’s horrific. I’m personally conditioned to lack all human decency at this point. A person could be dying and I’d think it was a scam.

  19. When people turn the money down, how much of their motivation is not wanting to take someone’s money, how much is worry that it’s a scam or there’s a catch, how much is thinking the money isn’t worth the time to stop, how much is not wanting to approach a stranger, even if that stranger is honest?

  20. Regarding my previous comment: That’s in the article. D’oh…

    * Six in ten people say … they would suspect a catch or trick.
    * Twenty per cent of people would simply not believe the offer was real…
    * Just over one in ten people said they would feel too embarrassed and three per cent of people said that £5 wasn’t worth the effort.

  21. After reading these comments, a stroll in London sounds like a journey through Mordor. Is it really that bad?

  22. Alternate headline: “Londoners want to be paid more than £5 to talk to sketchy guy on the street.”

  23. When I’ve led signature gathering drives for local ballot initiatives, I always tell the volunteers to engage passersby by starting with, “I’m a volunteer…” or, “I’m not a paid signature gatherer…” The number of people willing to stop increases tenfold. It helps that most of our volunteers are women in their seventies and eighties, unlike most signature drives which use paid gatherers who are basically fresh out of jail. I would imagine that it makes a huge difference who wears the sandwich board. I can get almost anyone to talk to me without any trouble.

  24. There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit
    And it’s filled with people who are filled with shit
    And the vermin of the world inhabit it.

    Not really, but I thought it was appropriate to some of the comments.

  25. Like the Sweeney Todd quote, Dave.

    I just avoid eye contact with people standing on
    the street with clipboards, pamplets, etc.
    Once, I climbed up over a railing to avoid a guy who was standing with a clipboard at the end of a
    wheelchair ramp, which was the only entrance to a
    grocery store. On the way out I walked by with
    an exaggerated sneaking motion as he was bugging
    someone else. I have a right to not be accosted
    by strangers in public.

    Was the 5 pound note experiment done in a part of
    town with no bums or homeless people around? It
    seems that no one really needed the money.

  26. Nobody addressing why the heavy female to male ratio or did I miss a comment or two?

    If not…

    • * Are women better planners, thus, less hurried than men?
    • * Do women have more time than men? (Maybe less women work than men? Or sorta like how younger people wouldn’t be hurrying to get to school like older working-types would be to get to work.)
    • * Are they more social on London streets?
    • * Are women (insert quasi-stereotype)…?

    Oh, and by the by, bite it,, all you were after was some free PR. Good job, porkwads.

  27. The Arbroath article has some snotty comment about “people unwilling to take elementary steps to improve their finances” – and they don’t allow comments there.

    My interpretation of the results suggests that people are rightfully wary of things that look too good to be true. When someone approaches me on the street, I have to assume they are doing it for THEIR benefit, not mine – why else would they go to that much trouble? TANSTAAFL is the word.

    This goes double for “Chuggers” (charity muggers) – they get paid to “Chug”, which is money that doesn’t end up supporting the charity in question. No, I’m not suggesting they should do it for free: I’m suggesting that they just stop doing it altogether, saving us all the hassle.

  28. i’m not real clear on why it’s wrong to get something for nothing, if it’s offered. ulterior motives may exist, but if the terms are unacceptable just bow out.

    i figure that i’d get to know these guys on a first name basis.

  29. #32 I’d have loved to see someone try this.
    “errr…sorry, it’s only one each…”

  30. This would have been much more fun if he had just stood there with no sign and simply asked everyone if they wanted 5 quid.. It would have been amusing to watch everyone process the question, being the reverse of what they normally hear.

  31. Imagine if he’d just been passing out the money, instead of wearing a dubious sandwich board and looking like an urban rattlesnake.

    /If you want it, here it is, come and get it…
    -The Magic Christian

  32. I wouldn’t be surprised if the male-female ratio is somewhat related to the sex of the person offering the fiver.

    Women trust women better, well, I think.

  33. Not surprising: the wise city-dweller avoids talking with strangers and suspects everyone of a scam.

    In London especially, the skunk dealers, newspaper pushers, Scientologists and advertisements are incredibly invasive. To survive your pedestrian journey, you must ignore as many of these hindrances as possible.

    I think the gender issue may have to do with the fact that women are even LESS likely to want to get in a conversation with a random dude on the street–most of the encounters I’ve had like that were quite creepy.

  34. The idea that this is people being irrational is silly. This is rationality at its height. Anyone who has lived in a large city quickly gets an elevated sense of caution when it comes to people trying to approach you at random or offer you something. It isn’t paranoia because it is a rational response. Most people new to the city lack this sense of caution and get guilted, scammed, or intimidated out of a few bucks a few times. They quickly (and wisely) develop a mentality that if someone is trying to offer you something or approaches you, they have an ulterior motive that is not in your best interest.

    Personally, I would have avoided the guy without a second thought. I would have automatically assumed that there was a catch which was going to require me to about face quickly and rudely, or spend half an hour listening to someone babble insanely or sell me something.

    Would I have missed out on some cash? Sure. Of course, I would have been on to better things while the idiot talking to every crackpot that comes at him spends half talking to lunatics, marketers, bums, and religious nuts, and only have £5 to show for it. My time is worth a hell of a lot more than £5.

  35. They quickly (and wisely) develop a mentality that if someone is trying to offer you something or approaches you, they have an ulterior motive that is not in your best interest.

    I find that depressing. If someone greets me, I say hello. If they try to sell me something that I don’t want, I say, “No, thank you” and move on. What are you doing that’s so important that you have to walk around with a bag over your head?

  36. OK,and how long does it take you to get rid of a predator? Once diagnosed? I’m guessing one half second.

  37. My verbal stylings are a pretty good indicator of my general vibe. Hustlers don’t approach me very often.

  38. I,on the other hand, am a loon magnet. If I’m surly, I LOOK at them and they generally go away. In any case, unless I am sick or distracted, my path is planned as as as the eye can see before I walk it. One consolation of time; accumulated experience moves you through routine daily life like a blade ripping silk. Any contrempts of recent years I lay at my own door.

  39. If I’m not busy I’ll sometimes spend a long time talking to sales people, like those people at the mall kiosks that want to stop you and sell you crap. It can be a fun way to pass a few minutes and practice haggling (not many places where you get to do that here in the US).

    I think of it as a public service, as long as I’m tying up the sales guy he can’t bug anybody else.

    I tried this with the Jehovah’s Witness that came by the house a few weeks ago. I stood out there and talked to him until he excused himself, then I invited him back. No joy though, he hasn’t returned. Bummer too, I was going to ask him where he got that great felted wool jacket he was wearing.

Comments are closed.