7

TL;DR

A stranger approached me and asked me if they could use my phone. I didn't want to be rude and say no bluntly, so I wavered, and felt uncomfortable. How do I say no to strangers asking for use of my phone?


This is for future reference, this happened a few days ago and I would like to know what I (and others) can do in the future.


Background:

I was waiting for a bus at a bus stop, using my phone. A person approached me and asked me if they could use my phone to make a phone call. I wasn't sure what to do so I asked "to who?" and they answered "my brother" and I said "... to pick you up?" at this point I wasn't really sure of whether they were telling the truth or not. I finally ended by semi-confidentially saying that my bus was arriving soon, and I couldn't do that. After repeating a few times, they walked off.

In this situation, I couldn't just leave the location, and I was uncomfortable around a stranger I didn't know.

Question:

How do I tell a stranger no when they ask to use my phone for a personal phone call?

Reason I am asking on here is that I didn't feel confident when I said "no" that time, so I would like to have knowledge about what I can say and what is considered okay to say in this setting.


Notes:

I will not put down the appearance of this stranger, because I do not want any bias.

This was outside at a bus stop, near government buildings, downtown, in a relatively small city (population ~98,100).

This question is different from this one in that this is a setting where I did not indulge the stranger at all and did not want to lend the phone to the stranger at all. Additionally, I am in a more public place (on the street), not an enclosed place where social rules apply (the library).

19

The #1 rule with saying 'no' to a stranger is to not leave any "wiggle" room for them to appeal to you. With as much confidence as you can muster (avoid any hesitation in your voice), I would suggest saying:

"Sorry, but I only loan my phone to people I know."

If you are familiar with the area, I would try suggesting an alternate option for them, along the lines of:

"There is a gas station a block away that may have a phone you can use."

If they insist, repeat your previous statement with a strong "no" until they give up and move along.

Although it may be appealing, I strongly discourage telling them that your phone is dead, inaccessible, or otherwise unavailable. First of all, if they have been watching you and have seen you use your phone, they will know this is a lie and may call you out on it. Secondly, you do not want a stranger thinking that you can't call for help (should their intentions be malicious).


Note: A reasonable person may be disappointed that you denied their request, but will not escalate the situation. If someone does escalate the situation (threatening or harassing you for use of your phone), you should leave the scene or otherwise seek help.

  • 1
    +1 for explaining why one shouldn't use the most obvious answers! (some fools vote down for telling things that were not asked but additions like these are really helpful) – puck Aug 18 '18 at 10:06
7

These days, my phone is no longer just my phone. It has my photographs and videos, my social media apps, and all of my contacts, not to mention my bank apps, work-related apps, and even my password manager. By unlocking and handing over my phone, I give a stranger potential access to all of this information.

So in the same way I wouldn't hand my car or house keys to a stranger, or allow them to rummage through the contents of my home computer, I would never just hand over my phone to anyone I didn't know and trust. It's become an unreasonable request, period.

Given that, much depends on the situation and the attitude of the person asking. If I'm not in an area where I feel safe, or the person seems sketchy or overly pushy, my response would be, simply:

I'm sorry, but that's not going to happen.

No need to explain, no need to apologize. Just tell them "no" and go about your business.

On the other hand, if the area is safe and the person seems to legitimately need help, then I might offer the following:

I'm sorry, I'm not going to give you my phone -- but I can make a call for you and put you on speaker. What's the number?

Then dial the number and let them talk to the person on the other end. If the conversation starts to drag on, gets too complicated, or is too argumentative:

This is starting to go on a little long, so I suggest you guys figure it out in the next 30 seconds before I hang up.

If at any time they become aggressive, or upset, or in any way make me feel uncomfortable about their intentions, then my simple response is:

OK, we're done here.

and then I walk away, or, if I can't leave, I ignore them.

Now, this has never happened to me, but if they continue to be aggressive, or start bothering other people, I might confront them directly:

It's clear you have a problem. I think it's best you explain it to the police.

and then call 911. Tell the dispatch something like:

There's a person at (location) who is harassing me and other people. He/she keeps asking for my phone but is unable to explain why he/she needs it, and it's making us feel unsafe. Could you please send an officer over to talk to him/her and see what's going on? Thanks.

Note: If any of this comes across as abrupt or rude, keep in mind that the other person initiated the conversation by making an unreasonable request. You may be happy to help out someone who legitimately needs it, but you get to determine what that help involves. It's up to the person needing help to keep things polite, civil, and safe -- if they can't manage that, then you should feel no obligation to assist them further.

2

Simply say: "No, I don't lend out my phone".

What if they asked if you had a few hundred (or over a thousand) dollars they could hold on to until it was time to return it, then would it be OK?

It's not for you to enquire the nature of the call if it doesn't seem like an emergency, in that case you can offer to make the call for them.

What if they drop or throw your phone, who pays; can you afford to be without?

There are many reasons not to hand over your phone and few reasons to do so.

Whether it seems rude not to lend strangers your personal possessions is an opinion, you probably could have gotten by without seeing them and they simply need to rely on their Plan "B" had they not seen you.

Simply state that you don't lend your phone. It should be the answer they expect, if it seems like a problem for them you should be alert that they might not accept the answer; put away your phone so you don't drop it. Some phones have a one touch panic dialer you can set up if you're worried about getting your phone taken away.

1

"No" is just fine as an answer, "Sorry, no" would be slightly more polite but is just as fine. As a stranger, I have no right at all to use your phone, so "no" is just fine from that point of view.

But it's not just that you have no obligation to let them use your phone. There is also the fear that you might get robbed. If it is in an open place (you said as a bus stop), and there's a good chance that the person is stronger than you (statistically, ElizBs are less strong than say Andrews, just because an Andrew posted), then that fear could be justified, depending on your country and location. If a person needs help by using a phone, they might be better off to approach a group of people, or do it in an enclosed area, so there is less fear of theft.

1

In situations like this, especially involving a stranger, I respond with only one word, spoken in a "soft" (non-aggressive) tone, which gets the point across without being rude.

"Sorry."

If they push the matter, just repeat again, "Sorry."


Details like the size of the city or what the person looks like are irrelevant.

The bottom line is, if you don't want to loan your property to someone,

  • you don't need to have a good reason, and,
  • you don't need to explain yourself

I don't think that approach is rude at all.


Personally I will go out of my way to help strangers any chance I get, including loaning my phone for a quick call (twice within the last few weeks) because I believe what stands to be gained (karma!) is far greater than what stands to be lost.

...but that's my opinion, and we're all entitled to our own! :-)

0

No, I am sorry.

This is polite enough (especially given the request) and you have to be crystal clear the main answer is no. Don’t offer explanations. They only encourage counter arguments.

In this day and age mobile phones contain all your private information and are used to pay your bills, receive tan numbers etc.

Lending a mobile phone nowadays can not be likened to letting someone call from your landline! Even if you have keep the phone locked while they call, you still place an (often) invaluable item in their hands. Imagine the trouble that could arise from misuse or theft of your phone! Everyone in today’s society knows this and you should not feel the slightest embarrassment for acting on it.

Furthermore you are not in a situation where the other person can expect no help. You are “outside at a bus stop, near government buildings, downtown, in a relatively small city”. Anyone genuinely in need can appeal to the authorities.

I am fully in favour of helping others, but it cannot be done in the face of such high probability of exploitation and with so much to lose (very negative expected value, so to speak).

  • "Lending a mobile phone nowadays can not be likened to letting someone call from your landline! Imagine the trouble that could arise from misuse or theft of your phone!" All the mobile phones I have ever had allowed making calls while keeping the phone locked. – user19922 Aug 18 '18 at 9:13
  • @fkraiem yeah. But that doesn’t protect from theft of the phone. After they have stolen it, rest assured that they will crack it, if that’s their goal. – Ludi Aug 18 '18 at 9:15
  • 1
    Why would you say "sorry" if you are not sorry? If you felt sorrow or regret, you could easily mend it by loaning the phone. – ashleedawg Aug 20 '18 at 3:58
  • @fkraiem - I'm curious, did you mean to say that you can place emergency calls while the phone is locked? I've never seen a phone that allows you to dial any number while it's locked. I figured the primary purpose of the lock is to prevent unauthorized calling, although I can set one or more emergency numbers that are allowed from the lock screen. – ashleedawg Aug 20 '18 at 4:00
  • @ashleedawg merely for politeness. Obviously I am not sorry – Ludi Aug 20 '18 at 6:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.