Five Street Scams Dogging Houston Now

Categories: Crime

imtheman042011.jpg
Too good to be true
While we are exposed to them on the internet pretty much every day, many con artists are still working "bricks-and-mortar" real-life scams. Some experts claim that each and every one of us will be approached either in the streets or in our homes by at least one of these low-lifes, so with that in mind, here are five of the most common scams currently out there, according to Houston Police Sergeant R. Calderon, an expert in this particular area of crime.

5. The Fake Utility Employee Ransack
Calderon says this one swept through some of Houston's ritzier West Side 'burbs a couple of months ago. He believes the perpetrators were Irish Travelers -- the same Celtic-American group that is also infamous for roofing and driveway paving scams.

In this swindle, senior citizens are approached in their homes. One crook will come to the front door disguised as an employee for one of the utility companies. He will tell the person who answered the door that they will soon be needing access to their backyard, and he will ask that the husband or wife go get their spouse, if they have one, so that he can show everybody in the house in more detail what his company will be doing.

That takes everybody into the backyard and leaves the front door wide open. As the first crook talks about ditches that will (never) be dug and trees that will (not) be trimmed, an accomplice will enter and ransack the bedroom for jewelry and other valuables.

"They were hitting those people hard," Calderon says. "I could not believe someone could go through your house in ten minutes and find your jewelry, your Rolex, your wallet. And then these people will come to us and say, 'He had on a uniform. He had on a helmet and a white shirt.'"

Calderon says HPD didn't make any arrests in those cases, but he believes that they got the word out enough to send the crooks scurrying for cover. "It's shut down here, at least for now," he says.

Calderon advises that you call the company these people claim to work for before you let them in their house, and to check their employee ID. You should probably also be suspicious if these people arrive at your house without some advance notice from their bosses.

4. The Pigeon Drop
We've had a personal experience with this one. A fake-African approached me at a MetroRail stop and told me he would give me a huge sum if I would just help him, a prosperous stranger in a strange land, to navigate Houston's banking system.

So far, he told me, he'd been having a hard time: He'd been cheated by pimps and prostitutes (evidently he hadn't brought any of the eight wives he claimed to have over here from Africa) and discriminated against by banking officials and others and was worried that he would be robbed blind. He told me that he was a king and owned several diamond mines in his native South Africa.

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Don't be the pigeon.
What's more, he could tell I was kind, Christian, nonracist and intelligent, and he wanted to reward me for all those traits. Although I knew he was a hustler, I went along for a while in order to write about it later. This almost proved disastrous: After half an hour with the guy, I almost believed that my ship had well and truly finally come in.

Had I succumbed to his patter, he would have brought in a partner and the two of them would have found a way to hand me a parcel of wrapped-up shredded newspapers (or something similar) in exchange for my real cash.

Calderon says this one has been on the upswing in Houston in the last few months. "But we've done a good job in the last few weeks," he says. "We've arrested a few."

Pigeon drop artists work in roving bands, Calderon says. It's vital that police departments in numerous cities share information and photos, and he says HPD has been doing just that. They keep pictures of convicted Pigeon Drop artists on file and show them to fresh victims, and he says that's how they've been able to make quite a few arrests.

I later found a picture of the guy who tried to con me on the San Antonio Police Department Web site. For what it's worth, a very similar scam, right down to the physical description and South African malarkey, was just successfully pulled off on two Austinites. (Many pigeon drop artists are black Americans who pose as Africans or Caribbeans.)

"They are so good at what they do," says Calderon. "When we arrested one of them the other day, I asked him if he felt bad about what he does to those people. He said, 'Well, no. If they are dumb enough to believe it, we're smart enough to take it.'"



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17 comments
americaswrongfullyconvicted
americaswrongfullyconvicted

Here is another scam in Houston. Two women "Christine and Paula Trent" use the Judicial system by having their victim (Preferably disabled, or Hispanic) arrested and place a protective order on them and then steal everything from their home. You can read the "Robert McClendon" story at: America's Wrongfully Convicted.com

Houston
Houston

Don't forget the Faux Patriot Scam. Goes like this. TV/Radio host preys on easily influenced, overly patriotic, partisans. Scares them using words like socialism, tyranny, communism, death panels, etc.. Uses the words mostly out of context, often times completely changing the meaning of the words in an attempt to shock their marks. Once they have their marks riddled with terror, they get them to agree to spend money on their books or worse spend $50 to attend a concert under the guise that the money is going to save the troops! Then the grifters skim 80-90% off the top before passing on some change to charities.

Side Show Bob
Side Show Bob

The only way to get grifted with the exception of the utilities scam. You have to want something for nothing or for very little these scams only work on greedy people. If it seems too good to be true it probably is ..

H_e_x
H_e_x

Ive been seeing quite a few of these people in my neighborhood. Heck, I know a few people who were scammed by them. I tell them to piss off and call my neighbors to give them the heads up or the constable.

MadMac
MadMac

I agree with Wyatt. My old man (now deceased) was a heister. He robbed folks honestly-- with an unloaded pistol. Lighter sentence for that in those days.

As for the old fart thanking you for trying to intervene, no he/she won't. People who don't want to know the truth won't thank you for telling it to them. As for the rest, well, I can't find much sympathy. WC Fields said it best, you can't cheat an honest man. If it (money, honey, lost royal titles, etc) is not yours, if you didn't work for it, walk away.

My old man spent a 3rd of his life in Huntsville/Angola for his greed. I've seen folks I know cleaned out because of their greed/lust/vanity and it was their own fault.

Sucker
Sucker

Don't buy any "high-end" stereo equipment from a blond headed, muscled up douchebag that claims he works for an audio co. and is selling overstock his boss doesn't know about. The dude got me once. When I got home I had indeed bought stereo equipment but had never heard of the brand. I googled the brand name and the first 2 pages of finds were about people being scammed. I learned a lesson about greed that day.

Wyatt
Wyatt

My favorite way to scam people is to point a pistol at them and demand their money. Jokes on them if they give it to me, I could never shoot anyone

Oh Brother
Oh Brother

So how long have you had this Glen Beck obsession? Seek help.

Geezy
Geezy

Pretty fucking awesome Houston--- easily the comment of the day.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

Yes and no, SSB. The best ones also throw in a appeal toward charity too. The pigeon drop guys purport to be helpless immigrants and my guy added in a layer of racial guilt. The Latin Lotto people use religion and charity -- not only will you be enriching yourself, you'll also be helping the church feed orphans. Bi-winning! Not!

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

Mostly true about not being able to con an honest man, Mac, except for the utility scam. That one seems crueler than the rest because there's no element of greed there.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

Ah yes, the white speaker van guys. They almost made this cut, but the cop didn't bring them up. They seem to work Austin regularly.

Wyatt
Wyatt

Guy selling stuff out of a black truck? I got propped by him at a gas station once. His bullshit didn't make any sense, though.

Tunnel Mole
Tunnel Mole

Hi, USA1! How's it hanging? Not for any great distance, I bet.

MadMac
MadMac

JNL, you're right. That one slipped by me as more b&e than scam but it's scary to consider how quickly it could become assault.

Sihaya
Sihaya

Actually none of it is true - we shouldn't buy into the idea of making victims feel guilty.

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