Tis the season for tipping garbage men. Here in Brussels, at the end of the year, garbage men would ring your doorbell during their round, presenting you their best wishes for the new year.
This tradition came to an end several years ago. Nowadays, they present you their best wishes when they're off-duty. And in came a new ID problem...
Identifying garbage men at work is quite easy and rather fool-proof. The work-clothing they wear and their activity (filling the garbage truck with your garbage) is a good give-away. Would-be impostors face a rather high cost (obtaining a garbage truck, even stealing one comes with a cost) to impersonate garbage men at work.
Reliably identifying off-duty garbage men is a bigger problem. As you've only their (work-) clothes and verbal claims as evidence to help you in distinguishing real garbage men from impostors, your rate of false positives increases. As the cost of obtaining work-clothes to fool you will probably be outweighed by the amount of collected tips, impostors stand a chance to make a profit, and hence the probability of fake garbage men ringing your doorbell increases.
But is this really your problem? From an economics point of view: no!
Let's assume you tipped an impostor, and a few days later, a real garbage man rings your doorbell. Will you tip him too? I know here in Brussels, a substantial group of people won't. Because you're still facing the same identification problem (is this a real garbage men?), but this time, you're more suspicious. So your rate of false negatives increases.
And your risk of receiving bad service for not tipping the genuine garbage men is rather low. The real garbage men might be disgruntled, but then again, most realize that it's not that you don't want to tip garbage men in general, it's just that they were impersonated.
To summarize: genuine garbage man face an economic loss from the activity of impostors, you don't. Hence the ID problem is really the garbage men's problem, not yours.
The solution the garbage men in Brussels adopted is to deposit some form of photo ID for garbage men in your mailbox, weeks before the tipping occurs. This document will assist you in distinguishing the real from the fake.
I invite you to post comments with ways to improve or break their system.
Somewhere I'm tempted to alter this "photo ID" (i.e. replacing the pictures), and challenge the first garbage man ringing my doorbell. I picture me saying: "Ja mo kadeike, a foto stoet e ni op!" (as Google translate doesn't support Brussels dialect yet, let me translate loosely: "Hey kid, your picture doesn't match!"). But then again, it's the season to be merry, and I'm a satisfied customer, so I won't be a jerk.