A pair or a team of swindlers will usually work together to accomplish the pigeon drop. The key element is supposed found money or a valuable which will be shared between the one who found the money and the victim (pigeon).
The scam is normally committed on an older victim but can be committed on anyone. It is performed in large public places such as the shopping mall or a parking lot. Variations and details on pigeon drop may vary, but all will somehow relate to or follow this general described pattern.
The Pigeon Drop Scam Revealed
This scheme uses confidence and misdirection to deceive a victim. The con man will misrepresent a big reward to make a person fall into a trap.
All they need is a victim with money, a money bag, some fake cash, and a well thought out pitch to execute this found money scam. Victims don’t expect a stranger to reach out, which is why they use emotions and scripts designed to gain confidence quickly.
First, they pick a public location to make the scheme look natural: a plaza, a mall, or a parking lot. They’ll look for a target that could be easy to scam. This could be a foreigner, a young and possibly naive person, or an old lady.
They’ll approach the victim and show they have found a bag. An examination will reveal the package contains what appears to be a large amount of money or similar valuable items.
With amazement they will talk excitedly about how much money is in the bag and what each one could do with the money if it was theirs, skillfully drawing your curiosity into the benefits of the scheme.
There is no label or ID present on the bag and the stated likelihood is that whoever lost the money is unlikely to be found or they probably came to it by dishonest means. The possiblity of returning the money is ruled out as improbable.
After everyone agrees that returning the found valuables is not really an option, the con man proceeds with talking about what to do with the recently found stack. Then, a third person involves. They claim to know a person that will guide them to the right financial decision.
Nobody knows who is the owner of the “found bag“. After the conversation, the strangers agree to split the loot.
“We’ve found this money bag together, so it’s fair to divide it. Let me ask the financial advisor what we should do.”
They use this “expert role” to impose their rules: an imaginary financial advisor or an attorney.
“The law says we cannot divide it. We need to wait a few days in case the real owner claims it. Who will keep the cash until then? ”
After a planned out conversation, they agree that you (the victim) can keep the sum. But there is a problem… How can they trust you? To get your share, you’ll need to put up some “good faith” money, which will be returned to you after the valuables are divided.
“I trust you to keep the full amount for yourself until we meet again. Since I am taking the risk, I need some sort of guarantee. Can the both of you pay in cash this amount before I hand out the bag?”
At this point, you’re probably thinking more about the money you just got than the potential risks. And the third person is giving money too, so the deal must be legit, right?
The con artist who found the bag was kind enough to share the money with you. So it’s logical to be just as generous with him. The third man seems to be trustworthy as well: he pulled out the wallet and gave cash as a guarantee as well.
The “good-will” money requested is usually high. The numbers are high to make you go to the ATM to get cash.
While you are on the ATM, con artists will replace the money bag with a fake one. When the person comes back to pay the guarantee, they give the victim the worthless money bag. Once done, they’ll act elusively and walk away as fast as possible.
The “pigeon” never sees the fraudsters again and finds out that the bag is fake soon enough.
Why Does the Pigeon Drop Work So Well?
The tactics and variations used in the scheme may be slightly different, however, swindlers know what to say and have a planned out script.
Con artists will look trustworthy, well dressed and mannered. A good-looking man or a woman standing in a public space finds money and you can see and check the authenticity of the money with your own eyes. Nothing will seem suspicious.
Including the third person (second con artist), makes success even more probable. It makes the situation more believable and they can push you in the direction they want with combined efforts.
All in all, the process may look more complex and sometimes much more obvious. Let’s just look at this video and see how a variation of it would unfold.
The Four Stages Of The Pigeon Drop Scam
A stranger approaches and lures you with cash. They ask for “good-will money” and exchange the money bag while you are either distracted or gone. Once you pay the advance, they misdirect you and flee.
It sounds simple when explained this way, but it’s much harder to recognize a real one. The best artists use many convincing excuses to put their foot in the door and gain your trust.
When they reach out, they try to make it look as natural as possible. A good-looking man may stand with a phone in the middle of a plaza and “ask for help” to the first person that comes nearby.
In a parking lot, a stranger may come to you, asking if the bag he found is yours.
Regardless of their details, their message is clear. “Hey, I’ve found this money bag and don’t know what I should do with it.” They try to look as a good-will person. The victim will think: “he is obviously trustworthy even if it’s a stranger.”
The scammer has to trick the victim into thinking they’ll get a huge cash reward. They will trust them all the found money if he pays “good-will” money.
Since they ask to take action, many questions will naturally arise for the victim. As a con man, the fewer questions they make, the better it works. And emotions are great tools to make people make decisions without thinking.
Thus, we buy on emotions and justify with logic, not the other way around. As they talk about money, the victim feels greed, hope, and excitement.
It helps to have a third person behave as the victim would do. This one acts as a second participant making questions and giving “good-will” money. The victim will then take action with confidence and use social arguments to justify the decision.
Once they convince the victim, the others agree to meet in the same location for the trade. The person will go to the bank. The fraudsters hide the real money bag and get out of the fake one. If it’s a smaller amount, you can replace it on the spot.
For example, the con man gives the real envelope to his friend after showing you the cash. This one will start talking on the phone with the “banker” and wandering around. The first man will keep you distracted with a conversation while the man on the phone gets a fake envelope from his pocket.
Now, the “drop” is ready. The men agree to give the victim all the money in exchange for the “good-will” money.
Once the victim falls into the trap, they need to get out of the scene. The scammers will make up an excuse to go away, promising to come back in a few minutes.
It works better if the con men leave one by one. The person with the money can leave immediately while the other distracts the victim and answers his questions.
Another variation is making the victim go with the money bag to cash in their bank building. By the time you get back out – disappointment, the men are gone.
How To Prevent The Pigeon Drop
For someone unfamiliar with scams, it’s hard to recognize the pigeon drop, especially with the many variations. Sometimes, the scene starts with the third man approaching you, and the first man with the money bag comes up later.
Remember, their best weapons are your emotions. But if you recognize the scheme on time, they won’t trigger.
Imagine a man who offers you a lot of money for nothing. What does that tell you? When was the last time such a scenario happened? You might not be that lucky after all!
Expose the Scheme
If you are informed about these tricks, it’s easier to make good questions. You can go straight to the facts and prevent the situation.
If you never heard of this scam before, the best thing you can is to avoid everything that looks to good to be true. Are you getting something for nothing? Say no.
If someone found $50.000 would he be willing to automatically give up $25.000 just as a sign of good faith? Highly unlikely.
It helps to think of how they found you. Did the scammers come to you because you are somehow special? Or could they have reached out to any other guy on the street? If good things come too easily, disbelieve.
Recognize the Situation
Some decisions cost a lot of money when taken carelessly. We assume things will go the way we want, and we expect others to help us. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Some people will try to steal your hard-earned money, no matter the consequences. Even after you report the crime, you are still victim at the of the day.
People don’t educate or prevent these risks because they are unlikely to happen. They never expect to be the next victims. That’s why it’s harder to take responsibility.
When you learn, you are saving yourself thousands of dollars, hours of headaches, and a ton of problems. Because awareness reduces risk exponentially.
Listen to Your Gut Feeling
No matter how convincing it sounds, every victim fell the experience strange. It always feels like something isn’t right.
When your intuition tells you to stay back, do it. Give yourself enough space to question and think.
The con artist will bring another person to influence your actions. Although it feels confusing, choose to think independently rather than copying the other person.
Having a set of principles helps to prevent these tricks.
- Trust your intuition and if the situation seems unusual or if you feel uncomfortable, walk away.
- Do not trust someone because they seem to have honest faces and pleasant personalities. Looks can and will deceive.
- If the offer is too good to be true, in fact so good that it seems impossible to say no, and person keeps insisting, it’s a trick.
- Before you give out any sum of money at someone else’s suggestion you should call your bank, lawyer or any trusted person who could posses appropriate knowledge
Wrapping It Up
This confidence trick is an example of how scammers use our emotions to manipulate our actions. The pigeon drop scam follows classic misdirection techniques and is known around the world. A variation of it, that always involves a perpetrator with a foreign accent is called a Jamaican switch.
It’s convincing because they promise to give ten times what you pay. If you have never heard or witnessed such scams, you might think that today is just your lucky day and you won’t say no to this opportunity.
The con man wants victims to feel lucky and excited so that they take careless decisions. Focus first on not losing before thinking of gaining quick cash.