Credulous crooks conned by cops

Throughout history, canny con artists have been fleecing the gullible with offers of something for nothing, roping in the unwary with unbeatable deals on everything from new TV sets to fat wads of cash somehow lost during civil unrest in Nigeria. Or Libya. Or, er, Wyoming…

Impersonating diplomats, bank examiners and attorneys, crooks have known for a long time that people can almost always be suckered when they’re offered a golden opportunity to increase their material wealth regardless of how ridiculous the offer may seem.

Not long ago, law enforcement authorities in San Joaquin County took a page from the con man’s handbook – sorry, not available in any store – and scored big on fugitive felons who couldn’t pass up something they should have known was just too good to be true.

Layla Bohm of the Lodi News-Sentinel reported in February that investigators with the District Attorney’s Office in Stockton rounded up dozens of felony suspects by sending them official-looking letters that promised payment of unclaimed money that was owed to them if they would be obliging enough to simply stop by a downtown Stockton office and pick up a check.

I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, I’d never fall for something like that. Not even if it was an official representative of the Nigerian government.”

Well, you might not fall for it and I might not fall for it, but 60 wanted felons who had somehow eluded arrest warrants enthusiastically took the bait and were reeled in by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office.

According to the report, the DA’s investigators sent out letters to more than 800 county residents who, for whatever reason, had decided that responding to felony arrest warrants might not be in their best interest.

The notifications purportedly came from the “California Unclaimed Funds System” (Probably a sister agency to the “Angola Post-Revolutionary Funds Distribution Ministry”) and were considerably more enticing than a court summons, saying basically, “Come and get it!”And they did.

One man reportedly traveled all the way from San Diego to get what was coming to him.

And he did…

Let’s face it, amigos. This is a whole lot more amusing way to round up fugitive felons than venturing out before dawn, kicking down doors, lobbing tear gas hither and yon and then discovering that your intended prey moved to Reseda three weeks ago and you’ve just captured a pair of bewildered Mormon missionaries.

This way, the felons come to you. When they skip into your cozily bureaucratic office space with open arms, you greet them with open handcuffs – no fuss, no muss. It’s, like, a kinder and gentler arrest.

(And best of all, no tear gas. Yech…)

Of course, if this trend is going to catch on statewide, lawmen will have to vary their techniques from time to time to keep clever crooks getting wise to the con – maybe opening a “California Office of Unclaimed Methamphetamines” or the “State Office of Misplaced Education Funds.”

The latter should draw in fugitive politicians like flies to honey…

Originally published March 13, 2005

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