By Robbie Owens

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DALLAS(CBSDFW) – Panhandling at the pump. Drivers say it’s happening all over North Texas—and it’s not just annoying: some say it’s getting dangerous as well.

“People coming up to you? It scares the crap out of you,” says Wanda Jones, while topping off her tank in Dallas today. “They’re very vocal, so if you say `no’, they sometimes curse you out… they can be very mean.”

Emily Fenner agrees—and says she’s very careful about where she stops for gas after a friend was assaulted by a panhandler. “He goes, `you got some bleeping money’, and then punches her in the face! Luckily two guys were standing there and came over and tried to catch him. She called the cops. She has a big black eye now. She’s terrified.”

Fenner says the problem has gotten worse since Dallas closed the homeless camp that came to be known as ‘Tent City.’ “It’s horrible,” says Fenner, “every day when I go to work there are at least 10 of them sitting out there on the curb.”

Police in Cedar Hill are looking for two men who robbed an elderly man at the Valero Gas station near Clark Road and FM 1382 last week.

“He stuck his hand in his coat, [and] acted as if he had a weapon,” says Lt. Colin Chenault, Cedar Hill Police Dept. According to investigators, the suspect asked the elderly man if he could get in his car for a moment to get warm. “He took him to a local business right around the corner. Another suspect entered the back seat, and said, `look, don’t do anything stupid’ and they took the man’s money. He had just recently come from a bank located near the gas station.”

It is for that reason that police suspect that the robbery may not have been entirely random. Other gas station robberies have also been reported in nearby cities, leading police to encourage residents to be aware of their surroundings at all times—and remember that those ‘hard luck’ stories delivered while customers are held hostage at the pump could very well be a set up.

“It happens at all of them,” says Jones, “and I absolutely go out of my way…if I see someone panhandling, I go somewhere else.”

A spokesperson for QT, which operates dozens of gas stations in the Dallas area, says panhandling is strictly prohibited and employees will ask panhandlers to leave the property. Repeat offenders can be charged with criminal trespassing. Still, officials also acknowledge that chasing panhandlers away can be much like chasing paper across a parking lot on a windy day… it always moves somewhere else.

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