Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Sting Maybe?

On the American Movie Classics (AMC) channel, the movie The Sting has been showing over and over these past couple weeks. Paul Newman and Robert Redford play the likable con-men who cheat people out of money. In the movie, bad people are the victims of the sting. If it were only so in real life.

During one of the breaks for the movie, the AMC host mentioned that there are millions of cons of one sort or another operating each year. In Michigan here, a woman lost her life savings, $295,000 to a network of con artists who used three separate scams to coax her to mail 12 pounds of money to Europe and thousands of dollars of wire transfers to Canada. Police say they'll likely never catch the crooks, nor retrieve the money.

Although I’ve received numerous e-mail scams over the years, I’ve never met a con-man in person. But after an incident last weekend when my wife and I were on vacation, I wonder. See what you think.

Wendy and I were outside the main visitors’ center at the Smoky Mountain National Park standing in the parking lot. It was late in the day and the parking lot had cleared out for the most part. But there was a group of men on motorcycles at one end of the lot where we had parked.

As we approached our car, a middle-aged man got off his motorcycle and walked over. He asked if we were "from around here." In one hand, he held a large vinyl zippered bank bag with the name of a North Carolina bank on it.

We said, "Sorry, we’re not from around here" and continued to get into our car. The man smiled, voicing some forgotten pleasantry, but it seemed to me like he wanted to talk to us about something. We never gave him the chance.

Now, I just could be extremely cynical. Okay, I AM extremely cynical. Ask my wife. But as soon as I spied the bank bag, the first thought that came into my mind was "pigeon drop." There are many variations of that found money scam. In the movie The Flim Flam man, George C. Scott (another likeable con artist) gets the pigeon to put up his own money in order to collect a share of some found money in a wallet because there is an uncashed check that Scott says he can cash at a local bank.

Other variations involve the pigeon putting up his own dough as earnest money or for attorney’s fees. My thought was that this guy was going to say he was from out of state and couldn’t carry a bank bag that large riding a motorcycle (I wondered about that too). So he would give us the bank bag which probably contained some worthless cashier’s check of a large denomination, if we would put up some of our own money to share. So he ends up with some of our spending cash, we end up with a few small bills and a bum check.

Okay, so am I being too paranoid? My wife thought he might be just another time share salesman. We have run into those before too. Or maybe he just wanted directions to the nearest town.


Anonymous kristy said...

He was gonna scam you. You did the right thing. (Of course, maybe I think that because I tend to be cynical too).

5:44 PM  
Anonymous Maria said...

I am afraid I would have had to ask a few more questions before deciding it was a scam or not.

I am not saying that is what you should have done. I think you went with your instinct and that is exactly what one should do.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

I've known a few ex-cons in the line I used to be in. You did the right thing. Smells like scam to me; or worse.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

should be "line of work"

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Add me to the cynical list. Makes no sense to me why a middle-aged guy on a motorcycle is carrying a bank bag to begin with....and if it was legit, why was he approaching you with it?
Like the telemarketers I used to get before listing my number not to be called....I also would have ignored this guy and kept heading to my car.

5:58 AM  
Anonymous enforcer said...

never trust a dude on a motorcycle, with a bank bag who want's to where your from.

9:06 AM  
Anonymous enforcer said...


9:07 AM  
Anonymous schnoodlepooh said...

some paranoia can be healthy. FYI, I have one of those bank bags and I keep pencils and pens in it! but yes, I'm very paranoid also - and fearful.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Fred said...

Or, maybe he really did have a bunch of money in that bag...

12:59 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

None of us know what the score was Dave, but I think you did what felt right to you and that's what you should do.

1:15 AM  
Blogger Me said...

I don't trust any stranger. You did the right thing.

4:21 PM  
Blogger bornfool said...

I'm pretty cynical myself. Goes with the job. I have to agree with the enforcer.

Great fiction submission. I liked it a lot. Surely, that's not the piece that your wife read and said, "I don't get it."

8:44 AM  
Anonymous bonnie said...

Another wonderful aspect of THE STING is that it brought Scott Joplin rags into the lexicon of American music.

Time share salesmen aren't con artists? Directions to the nearest town? As in: HOW DO I GET OUT OF ANN ARBOR?!

Keep watching your back, Dave!

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wuss. You knock the guy out and hightail it out of Tennessee with the loot, like Bonnie and Clyde.

12:22 AM  
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