Forget the lions and tigers and bears, oh my. The latest wolf in sheep’s clothing isn’t anything that cuddly. The threat isn’t even cougars — neither the four-legged nor two-legged variety. Instead, the modern menace is snakes and pigeons and all sorts of critters that cement the idea that it’s a zoo out there.
Let’s start with snakes. Police departments on both sides of the Bay, including right here in San Mateo County, report that criminals are using snake stories to slither their way into homes and make away with valuables. No wonder folks are rattled.
With the amount of publicity shined on this scam one would think these guys would shed this ruse in favor of a fresher sounding tale. Locusts? Geckos, even? But apparently snakes are where it’s at because the cases keep mounting.
First thought — we need Samuel L. Jackson. Looking at what the man accomplished on a plane, chances are he can certainly regulate on the ground.
Second thought — no, we don’t need fictional enforcers, just a little common sense.
Somebody comes to the door, even wearing a khaki ensemble resembling an official uniform or polo shirt bearing a city logo, claiming they need to install snake traps and would you be so kind as to come outside and see? The correct answer is an emphatic, No. While the occupant is outside with the alleged snake charmer, another lawbreaker sneaks in and does a little looting. In the same scenario, the correct action is calling the police. These rats aren’t monkeying around.
Neither are those guys who somehow manage to sell a whale of a tale to individuals — often older but not necessary so — to part them from their money. The pigeon drop scam, as it is called, goes something like this. A suspect or two approach the victim with wild stories like needing to cash a hefty winning lottery ticket or — as in this recent gem from South San Francisco — a fishy claim that he is from South Africa and needing to distribute $80,000 to churches as part of his father’s will. The suspect asked the 69-year-old victim for help because he was returning to South Africa and also asked the same of another seemingly random man who later turned out to be an accomplice. The victim and accomplice were asked to provide the suspect $7,000 as a good faith gesture but promised $10,000 for the help. The victim withdrew $3,000 in cash and gave it to the crook.
But wait, it gets better.
The suspect told the victim as an extra sign of trust he needed to drive around the block while he and the accomplice waited. When the guy got back, the men and the money were gone. Go figure.
Chances the suspects turn into jailbirds any time soon are slim short of a stool pigeon helping collar the culprits. But nobody likes being a rat even if it might get them out of the doghouse themselves.
Prevention is then obviously more realistic than the cure. These scams might sound harebrained but that’s not the problem. The problem is that people actually fall for them.
So wise up, squint your eyes until they’re beady, embrace a little more cynicism and realize there is no widespread snake invasion and no South African beneficiaries looking to spread the wealth in a grocery store parking lot. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Oh, and proving trust and honesty usually doesn’t involve circling the block.
If this sounds too harsh, feel free to carry on as usual. Just don’t be surprised when your goose is cooked.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.