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Evanston police have received reports of a team of subjects who are scamming elderly patrons using a financial crime called the “South African Switch,” both in Evanston and Chicago. This scam is also referred to as “Pigeon Drop” which is described as the following:

The “Pigeon Drop” is a confidence trick in which a “mark” or “pigeon” is convinced to give up a sum of money in order to secure the rights to a larger sum of money, or more valuable object. In reality the scammers make off with the money and the mark is left with nothing.

In the process, the stranger (actually a confidence trickster) puts his money with the “mark’s” money (in an envelope, briefcase, or sack) which the mark is then entrusted with. The money is actually not put into the sack or envelope, but is switched for a bag full of newspaper or other worthless material. Through various theatrics, the mark is given the opportunity to make off with money without the stranger realizing. In actuality, the mark would be fleeing from his own money, which the con man still has (or has handed off to an accomplice).

The “South African Switch” is a scam in which the suspect plays the part of a visitor from a foreign country. The suspect targets the victim for help in finding a non-existent location such as a church or hotel. The suspect then tells the victim that he/she has been awarded a large sum of money or a large settlement. The suspect will tell the victim that he/she cannot take the money back to their homeland. The objective of this scheme is to convince the victim (usually an elderly victim) that they are going to give him/her the money to distribute to a charity and will also allow the victim to keep a portion for their troubles. Before doing so, the victim must withdraw some of his/her own money from the bank to show that he/she is trustworthy (act of good faith). Once the victim makes the withdrawal from his/her bank, the suspect(s) will use some type of distraction and disappear with the victim’s money.

Financial Institutions should be extra vigilant, pose additional qualifying questions to potential victims, and exercise all due diligence in safeguarding customers from this type of financial crime.

If anyone suspects this scam is occurring or observe these subjects in question please do not alert the suspects of your findings, but contact your local Police Department immediately.