Confidence games, also known as a confidence trick, are scams that occur within our communities that attempts to defraud an individual by earning their confidence. The term con in the phrase con artist is short for the word confidence; a confidence artist earns the trust of an individual before defrauding him/her. Con artist, whether we want to admit it or not, are professionals who could earn as little as one dollar to billions of dollars targeting individuals with greedy characteristics. How can a con artist make a billion dollars? To answer that question we could travel to the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina and ask Bernie Madoff himself. Confidence games are truly an everyday occurrence and it not only occurs within big organizations, but it occurs in the streets or areas where people interact with one another. Some confidence games may be of interest in discussing, but one in particular that has been around for 100 years is the Pigeon Drop.
The Pigeon Drop confidence game is a scam that occurs in the streets and usually involves two suspects and a victim. The idea behind this scam is that the con artists (suspects) target and persuade an individual to give up a small portion of their money for a greater gain. It is a case of “you give me 5 dollars and in return, I will give you 20 dollars.” Some of us may think that the idea behind this scam would never work for an individual with common sense, and perhaps we may be right to some extent. However, as I mentioned before, con artists are professionals and the skills that they possess pertain to the ability to lie, cheat and steal using rhetoric methods. In other words, they have the personality or skill to gain a connection with an individual and persuade them to go along with their deceitful plan. Generally, it goes back to whether an individual is greedy. An individual may have all the intellect in the world; however, greed can easily blind an individual and make him/her lose sight of the bigger picture.
How does a Pigeon Drop work? The two suspects are split into two roles; the first suspect plays the role of the inside man and the second suspect as the outside man. The objective of the inside man is to find and establish a connection with an individual (victim) in the street. For example, one way the inside man may accomplish this is by acting as a tourist looking for directions. Once the inside man has found his victim, he would engage him/her in a conversation long enough for the outside man to get involved. The objective of the outside man is to walk behind the victim and pretend to have found a wallet. The outside man would then ask the inside man and the victim if the wallet belongs to them; the wallet is actually part of the set-up and consists of the suspects’ money. Both the victim and the inside man would say that the wallet is not theirs. The outside man would then open the wallet and reveal a large sum of cash to both the victim and the suspect’s partner. He would take the cash out, reveal the large amount of cash, and count it in front of them. In this scenario, let’s say that the amount of cash in the wallet is $3000. The outside man would then tell them that they should split the money amongst themselves. Before distributing the money however, the inside man would act as a good Samaritan and tell his partner in crime to go to the nearest building to see if anyone had reported a wallet missing. To gain the confidence of the victim, the inside man takes the money and puts it in an envelope to insure that the outside man doesn’t just flee with the money. While the victim is distracted, the inside man swaps the envelope with another envelope containing magazine cut outs the size of dollar bills. Before the outside man goes to the building to check if anyone reported a wallet missing, he asks both the victim and his partner for some money as a form of collateral. That way, when he came back and they were both gone, he would have at least gained some profit from this event. After a while goes by and the outside man has yet to come back, the inside man would then tell the victim that he is going to go check on him. He gives the envelope (the one containing the magazine paper) to the victim and goes out searching for him: they are never seen again.
An article from ABC Action News discusses an incident where a widow of 74-years of age was scammed out of $2,800 through a Pigeon Drop confidence game (Chodun). A woman using a fake identity approached the old widow with a bag containing a large portion of money and asked her if it belonged to her. To make the story short, the woman had asked the widow that she would have to come out with her own money before splitting the money in the bag. Surely enough, the widow withdrew money, and the woman (con artist) gave her the “money” in a locked pouch and told her that she would call her when she arrived home to reveal the lock combination. Time went by and the woman never called. The widow’s daughter opened the bag with a knife only to discover that there was nothing but paper scraps. (Chodan).
The Pigeon Drop confidence game is only effective against greedy personalities. If it is too good to be true, than it most likely is not true. I have learned throughout my research of different types of fraudulent schemes and scams, that most of the cases involves the concept of “too good to be true.” It appears that the victim loses sight of the truth when they are blinded by greed. People who are greedy are never satisfied with what they have and instead they go out looking for the quickest way to get rich. When observing con artists, we are able to determine that their motivation for ripping people off is derived from greed. Con artists, in a sense, have greedy characteristics. Look at Bernie Madoff for example. Not satisfied with the millions of dollars he already had, he decided to push his limits by wanting billions of dollars. With our current situation involving the economy, society is more vulnerable to con artists and confidence games. People are desperate for more money and they are either the ones losing the money or the ones committing the crime. Defrauding or scamming an individual is a crime and we have to treat it seriously. I suppose defrauding an individual is better than having some maniac with a gun robbing a store, but the effects can be just as dangerous in terms of mental health. We need money to survive in this society, and when all or most of the money is taken away from us, we begin to develop a stressful environment for ourselves. Victims of these crimes learn from their mistakes, but at what cost? The best way to eliminate this problem is to educate people about the different types of scams. Prevention is always the key to eliminating the problem. We never know what we have until it is all gone. Unfortunately, that is the lesson people learn when they become victims of a scam.
- Criminal Investigation, Charles R. Swanson et al., McGraw-Hill, 10th Edition.