A Temple Hills man has been arrested and charged with scamming several senior citizens out of thousands of dollars in a scheme known as a “pigeon drop.”
Keith Twiggs, 59, was arrested on June 29 after Prince George’s County police said he had committed at least two of the scams in the county since May.
A pigeon drop scam, police said, involves criminals using the lure of a more valuable item or a large sum of money to encourage victims to turn over cash to them.
While Twiggs is now behind bars, Lieutenant Joseph Bellino with Prince George’s County Police claims that he is the leader of only one of several groups running this scam in the county.
“There’s multiple crews operating; they’re learning that this is an effective way to get a large amount of money,” Bellino said.
Twiggs is accused, along with other unidentified co-conspirators, of targeting older Black residents in expensive cars because they assume those individuals have wealth.
In one of the cases, Twiggs and an unidentified woman are accused of approaching a woman in the parking lot of an Oxon Hill Home Depot. Twiggs, according to the police, asked the victim if they dropped a pocketbook. When she said “no,” the two convinced her that they would share the money inside, but all involved must go to their banks and withdraw cash to demonstrate good faith.
Bellino said in many of these cases the suspects, who are similar in age to the victims, would play the role of the person with an opportunity for the victim to get a big pay out. The other would play a secondary role such as another person to benefit from the fictitious opportunity so that the victim lets their guard down.
Bellino said inside Twiggs’ home they found a woman’s purse with $21,000 inside and $50,000 in fake cash which is used in movies. In some cases, the phony money which is stamped with “motion picture currency” is used to make the victim think they got the big payout they were hoping for after the victim turned over the real money they withdrew from their bank.
“If the victims were to look closely at the funds, they would actually see (the stamp), but the emotion of the actual initial event is such that they don’t, they don’t realize it,” Bellino said.
So far this year, eight of these scams have been reported in the county, and the victims have lost anywhere from $8,000 to $60,000. While not a new scam, Bellino said that many this early is a “fast start” compared to years prior.
In some cases, a promise of donating funds to a church or the thought of helping a family member in need motivates the victims to fall for the scam.
“Those emotions and that interaction, in that moment, is kind of what they use as bait, to begin to get people who would otherwise not engage in any type of activity like this to go to your financial institution and withdraw large amounts of funds,” Bellino said.
Also found at Twiggs’ home were letters that claimed to be from lawyers confirming funds exist, and police believe those were used as a way to convince victims they were not falling for a scam.
Investigators believe there are more victims and many more criminals out there running the scam. Bellino said that victims coming to the department soon after being scammed improves the chances of making an arrest and recording the lost money.
“Many times the elderly victims are so ashamed, once they come to the realization that they’ve lost much of their life savings or a large amount of their financial stability, that they delay in reporting to family members or reporting too long,” Bellino said.
According to court records, police found Twiggs at a Waldorf dealership as he was test driving a Chevy Cadillac for a possible purchase.
Bellino said there are Maryland laws that outline how bank tellers should ask certain questions when older individuals seek to withdraw large amounts of money, so the criminals will coach them and urge them to tell the bank they are paying for a “home improvement project.”
Sadly, Bellino said, other institutions are not asking the right questions or any questions at all.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the banks are willing to relinquish the funds despite the law,” he said.
In both cases involving Twiggs, the victims felt their life was in danger if they didn’t go through with turning over their cash. In one case, the unknown woman Twiggs is believed to have been working with followed a victim into a bank, which the victim said kept them from telling the teller what was happening.
Twiggs is charged with a list of crimes related to the scams, including assault, robbery and a gun charge. Anyone with information about other victims or suspects should contact Prince George’s County Police.
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