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Beware of Christmas Cons This Season
12/16/2016 11:05:28 AM

By Barney Blakeney

Charleston Police Sgt. Trevor Shelor exaggerated that the ‘pigeon drop’ scam is one which goes all the way back to times when people used clam shells as currency, but it still works. Last week two women targeted a 71-year-old lady for the infamous ‘pigeon drop’ scam and took the lady for $1,400. The pigeon drop scam may be one of the oldest flim-flam schemes because it is one of the most successful. Individuals have reported being scammed out of thousands of dollars in the sham that convinces a mark (the targeted person) to pool money with scammers to ultimately find the common pool of money has been switched for worthless paper.

Scamming is big business. The U.S. Justice Department estimates dishonest telemarketers take in some $40 billion from one in six U.S. consumers each year.

The AARP claims 80 percent of the victims are 50 or older. There’s no way to tell how much money is scammed in schemes like the pigeon drop since many of the incidents go unreported – the victims too embarrassed or insecure about their independence to tell of their misfortune.

Shelor says the flim-flam business is year-round, but things pick up substantially around Christmas time – everyone’s in good spirits, lots of people are out and about shopping and lots of money is changing hands. It’s a scammers’ paradise.

Scam artists are tough to catch and their con games are many and varied. Some will take hours, even days to target a mark as in the ‘unfamiliar old friend’ scam in which the con artist somehow convinces the mark they know each other until the con artist positions himself to get cash or other valuables.

Shelor consoles that victims need not be too embarrassed to report falling for a con game. It happens to the well-educated, the needy, the greedy and those who are just too kind-hearted to resist. So Shelor takes his message of caution to bank tellers and others who may notice unusual behavior when a familiar customer or client might be falling into a trap.

In recent weeks local police have been plagued by thieves who look for packages left on porches and doorsteps. Shelor has some tips to avoid being victimized by grinches trying to steal your Christmas gifts. If you’ve ordered a package, try to be home to receive it or have a trusted neighbor pick it up. Thieves follow delivery trucks to steal packages left on porches. When you leave home, lock all entrances. And make sure the home looks occupied by leaving some lights on.

When shopping he advises to only take as much cash or as many credit cards as necessary to make the purchases intended. Make multiple trips to the car and move your vehicle every now and then. Be sure to put the things you’ve brought to the car in the trunk. Motorists who drive SUVs should exercise extra caution because SUVs don’t have trunks, he said. Men should carry their wallets in their front pockets and women should carry purses they can carry under their arms. Never leave a purse in a shopping cart, Shelor warns. Most of all, be alert!

After Christmas, make personal markings on items and register new products. Take pictures of the items and put them in the appropriate places in your home. Don’t leave them in one place so it’s easier for burglars to grab and run. And break down boxes. Thieves get clues about potential victims from what’s in their trash pile.

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