While doing surveillance for a separate purpose, Fayetteville police happened upon two alleged con artists Thursday, catching them redhanded pulling a scam called the “Pigeon Drop.”
According to Lt. Mike Whitlow, these types of scammers tend to target the elderly and tend not to get caught.
“I will tell you, this is huge. These folks are ghosts,” Whitlow said Thursday. “They’re looking for us, and as soon as they see us, they’re gone. They disappear.”
The two suspects in this case weren’t able to disappear this time. Whitlow said police were doing surveillance for a different invesigation when one officer identified a vehicle that had been connected with similar crimes in the past. The two suspects were found in the victim’s car in the Fayette Pavilion and arrested.
Juan Alexander Jackson, 57, of Birmingham, Alabama and Marie Mangham, 74, of Atlanta each face one count of theft by deception. Whitlow said more charges are expected.
The “Pigeon Drop,” is a scam that more than a dozen Fayetteville residents have fallen victim to over the last nine years, Whitlow said, and he suspects the actual figure is much higher.
In a typical scenario, a scam artist working with one or more partners will target an elderly victim in a parking lot. As the victim exits their car, one of the perpetrators will approach them claiming to have found a wallet on the ground with cash in it.
“They open it up and say oh wow, look at all this money in here. What are we going to do with it?” Whitlow explained. Typically a second accomplice, in this case alleged to have been Mangham, will walk up and join in the discussion, and ultimately agree that it’s fair for them to keep the money.
The trick then comes when one of the perpetrators tells the victim they work nearby and that their boss would be able to say for sure whether they’re allowed to keep the money.
“One of them will go, you know what, I work here at Lowe’s… let me go in real quick and talk to my boss, he’s an attorney. Let me see what we can do with this money,” Whitlow described. “Then they’ll come back out and say my boss said we get to keep it, but we need to get some real money to make sure these serial numbers are good, do you have some money we can get a hold of?”
The perpetrators will then drive the victim to their bank and have them withdraw their own cash, which they then make off with. Whitlow said some victims have lost large sums of money this way. He said in one 2010 instance a victim was swindled out of $25,000.
There have been 15 official cases just in Fayetteville of this particular scam over the last nine years. Whitlow believes those numbers underestimate the scope of the crimes.
” I estimate for every one of these that gets reported there’s probably five more that don’t report, either because [the scammers] weren’t successful and didn’t get money or the victim is too embarrassed or too ashamed to report it,” Whitlow said.
Worse yet, the con artists running this particular scam are almost never caught.
“The last one I remember was a female in Douglasville who, when the victim went into the bank, the banker followed her out to the car, saw a strange woman in the car with this lady, and called the police. Other than that, I’ve never heard of these people getting caught,” Whitlow said.
The groups running the scam typically work in cycles, Whitlow said, moving from place to place then coming back through. He said Thursday’s incident occurred roughly a month after the previous failed attempt in Fayetteville, which fit in with the timeline police had observed before of seeing the scam pop up about every month.
Whitlow said Thursday afternoon he believed further arrests in the case were imminent.