'Pigeon drop' scam surfaces in Augusta area



It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book.

Two men approach an unsuspecting woman in a public parking lot promising a large sum of money.

To prove she is responsible, the woman is asked to withdraw money from her bank account and hand it to the men. The men leave and the woman finds out the money she thought she was receiving is actually scrap newspaper wrapped in a head wrap.

It’s called the “pigeon drop,” and it’s happened at least three times in the Augusta area over the past two months, according to Richmond County Sheriff’s Office reports.

“If somebody’s working the area, they’ll go until it stops working, then skip town,” sheriff’s Lt. Pat Young said. “It’s not a weekly thing, though.”

The scam has been around at least since the 1930s, Young said. He said every pigeon drop shares common qualities.

“There are usually two or more people working together,” he
said. “They’re going to find somebody who they think looks trusting, a pigeon.”

One of the scammers will approach the victim with a story to gain sympathy. In two recent incidents, the scammer said he was looking for an African Baptist church in the area. The church, however, doesn’t exist.

In each of the recent cases, the men promise to give the victims more than $68,000 if they can prove they are responsible. Before any money changes hands, the scammer will wave his partner over to the discussion.

“You bring in the third party to build up the confidence in the victim,” Young said. “This puts the victim at ease because they feel like they aren’t the only one in on the deal.”

The assistant will often withdraw money in a show of good faith to the victim. Once the victim withdraws their money, it is wrapped in a head wrap or bag and is combined with the large sum that the scammer promised. The three will then pray over it, Young said.

“And then by distraction or slight of hand, the money is replaced with newspaper clippings,” Young said.

On July 2, two men stole $3,000 from a 60-year-old Augusta woman in a pigeon drop, an incident report said.

One week earlier, two men conned an 89-year-old woman out of $1,000 after promising her $68,000.

Another victim, a 74-year-old Augusta resident, gave the scammers $700 in jewelry along with more than $1,200.

Young said the scam is extremely hard to prevent.

“We never know when they’re going to hit or where they’re hit,” he said. “My best advice is don’t trust anyone who approaches you in a parking lot promising you money.”