By Chester Campbell
Several scams using the old Pigeon Drop routine were reported recently in Nashville. The question for any thoughtful person is how could someone fall for such a scheme? The answer, of course, is that the con men or women involved are quite skilled at their profession.
The name of the scam comes from the French word "pigeon," which refers to anybody easily flimflammed. Con men refer to them as "marks."
The recent scams in the news followed the typical routine. In one the pigeon was an elderly woman in the parking lot of a supermarket. After getting out of her car, she was approached by a smiling younger woman who asked what time it was. That led to a friendly conversation about the weather, then another woman walked up excitedly with a large envelope. She said she had just found it in the parking lot and asked if it belonged to either of the other women.
They both shook their heads and wanted to know what was in the envelope. The second scammer opened it to show them that it was filled with a large amount of money. She said it was probably lost by a drug dealer or somebody else involved in an illegal activity. There was no way they could find the rightful owner.
The two scammers began to talk about what they could do with the money. Their mark listened and quickly became drawn into the plan. Finally, one of them said she had a lawyer friend who could advise them on what to do. After a short cell phone conversation, she laid out the plan.
They would each put some of their own money into a good faith kitty before going to the lawyer's office where he would divide up the cash from the envelope. By this time, the pigeon was completely hooked on the scheme. She drove with the women to her bank and drew several thousand dollars out of her account. She placed it in a bag with the other women's earnest money.
They drove to a building where the lawyer supposedly had his office. The two scammers gave the mark the good faith money bag to hold while they took the envelope with their find into the building. After waiting and waiting for them to return, the woman looked into the bag and found it stuffed not with large denomination bills but with wadded up newspapers. The women had dropped their pigeon and disappeared with her cash.
Fraud investigators say there are many reasons why the scheme works, particularly when the target is an elderly woman. Her vision may be blurred by hopes of getting something for nothing. She may become concerned that resistance would result in physical violence. The scammers have perfected their pitch. They know what to say and who to say it to, and they typically target as many victims as possible in a short period of time.
And while older women are particularly susceptible, elderly men can fall victim to the scheme just as easily. If you know someone who isn't sufficiently sophisticated to recognize a pigeon drop when it occurs, you'd do well to give them a little education on how to spot the scam.