“Pigeon Drop” scams are some of the most elaborate and blatant ways of stealing money.
Sarah enjoyed malls and today she had lots of time. She particularly liked window shopping at the more expensive stores. While she was admiring a particularly attractive dress, a well-dressed young woman who appeared to be very agitated came up to her. The young woman was carrying a sack.
“Pardon me,” the woman said. “Look what I just found.” She opened the sack just enough to show Sarah what appeared to be a large sum of money.
“Goodness,” said Sarah. “Where did all that money come from?”
“I just saw the sack sitting there on the ground and opened it up. I found all this money inside. How much money do you think there is in the sack?”
Sarah had never seen much money before. She was very curious why the young woman had spoken to her. “Is there something I can do to help you?” asked Sarah.
“When I saw you, I just knew that you could help me. Let’s sit down here and see how much money is in the bag.” The woman sat down at a nearby bench and opened the bag. Sarah sat down to see how much money the young lady had found. There was indeed a lot of money in the bag‑it contained more than $15,000.
“How could anyone lose so much money?” asked Sarah. “It sure makes you think that people today are very peculiar.”
“I knew you’d understand,” said the young woman. “You’re so sympathetic that I just have to share this money with you.”
Sarah was very surprised. She never imagined that by going to the mall that day she would come into so much money. The young woman went on, “I’ll give you half, if you’ll just help me.”
That would be $7,500. Sarah hadn’t seen that much money for in years. She did have a lot of money in the bank but she never withdrew more than just enough to live on. Sarah began to imagine the things she could buy with $7,500. Maybe she could buy the new dress she saw in the store window. The young woman began telling her a story about all the difficulties she had gone through recently. Sarah hardly heard a word she said.
Suddenly, the young woman stopped talking. “I just had a terrible thought,” she said. “What if somebody claims the money?” Sarah had always been honest but she wanted to believe that no one would claim the money. “I must know if you have enough money to pay me back if someone claims the money in the sack,” she said.
Sarah told the young woman that she had plenty of money in the bank. The young woman assured her that she trusted her, but just the same she would like to make sure Sarah was telling the truth. They walked to the bank branch right there in the mall. Sarah withdrew $7,500 of her own money to “prove” to the young woman that she had enough money in case the real owner came forward. The young woman took the money, put it in an envelope, and walked towards the front of the bank while Sarah followed her. “We’ll sit down right here and I’ll count the money.”
“Just a minute,” said the young woman. “I need to run to the restroom.” She handed the envelope to Sarah and walked away. Sarah sat there for a long time. Finally she looked in the envelope. All she saw was some pieces of newspaper. The young woman had disappeared with her money. Sarah just became a victim of the pigeon drop scam.
Elements of the pigeon drop:
- A stranger approaches you with a story about having found a large sum of money.
- The stranger offers to share the money with you if you will assist in some way.
- Before receiving your share of the money, you must show your “good faith” by putting up a deposit.
- The stranger insists that you go to your bank right then to take out the money for the deposit.
- The stranger will either take the money to count it, or make some other excuse for leaving with the money.
The pigeon drop is a very complicated scam with a number of variations. Sometimes this scam is run by two or more individuals. The story told by the scam artists is always different, but the elements of the scam are essentially the same. Whatever the story, the intent is to get the victim, usually an elderly person, to put up the “good-faith” money in case the real owner is found. The elderly person’s good judgment is blinded by seeing a large sum of money. Although it seems nearly impossible that anyone would fall for such a story, every year there are accounts of people being victimized. To guard against this fraud, it is merely necessary to ask yourself “Why would someone who had just found a large sum of money offer to share half of it with a perfect stranger?” It is important to understand that scams do not need to be reasonable or even logical to take advantage of the victim.
Protect yourself by:
- Never discussing personal or financial information with strangers.
- Never allowing a stranger access to your credit card or bank account numbers.
- Thinking “Why would anyone who had just found a large sum of money offer to share part of it with a complete stranger?”