Friday, March 20, 2009

Lesson #2: Don't trust anyone

Later the same day...

On my lunch break I stopped to help a man in a tweed suit with an old-fashioned fedora who was asking for directions.

"I need to find PIL International," he says, holding a checkbook-size red leather pouch with a lock at the end of the zipper.

"Do you have an address?" I ask.

"No, I just know it's PIL International."

"Sorry," I say, about to walk away.

"Are you agent?" he asks.


"Agent. Maybe you can read this." He points to a label affixed to the pouch. There is a line of Arabic scribbled on top, and on the bottom it reads PIL International.

"Do you need help?" A lady interrupts us. She is wearing a plaid wool trench coat with black boots.

"It's in Arabic," I point out to the man, ready to walk away, again.

"I found this on the ground and I'm trying to return it to its owner. It looks important," he says.

"Well, what's inside?" the lady asks. She is taking over, invading the man's space and touching the pouch, looking at its different angles.

"It's locked," he says.

"No it's not," she replies, taking the pouch from his hands and unzipping it. I gasp audibly, maybe even jump, when she opens the pouch and reveals a thick stack of bills. He takes the pouch back and thumbs through. They look like all 100 dollar bills. He finds a note. We all read it.
"Dear Brother: We have hit it big this time. The boys in blue have all been paid off..."

That is all I read, and I also see the figure $100,000 later in the note, before the lady says, "You should keep it" to the man. The man looks nervous, and takes out the wad of cash.

"I'll split it with you. Three ways," he says. He grips the corner of the bills, ready to split it in thirds. The lady looks eager and her hands are open in anticipation. I take a step back, reeling with giddiness and disbelief.

"No, you should take that to the police," I say. "They could come back looking for the money." It was all so obvious to me. If we took the money, we would be hunted down by the Arab mob and in the worst case scenario they would force us to work for them as hired guns.

Both of them are quiet.

"You know what," the man says, "I work right around the corner. I'll take the money there and see if anyone looks for it."

"What?" I ask, incredulous. "We have to call the police right now and figure this out. This is crazy!"

"I work at Chase, just down the block. We'll hold on to it."

"Don't give it to the police," the woman says, "they'll just keep it. It'll disappear."

The man nods in agreement. Before I can pursue this mystery further, they part ways.

I walk away too, totally shocked that I just turned down a three-way split of $100,000.

I cut lunch short and run back to the office. I gather Alicia, Tameka and Margaret to my office and begin the story of my strange encounter. As soon as I utter my first sentence, Alicia and Tameka both start nodding their heads knowingly, "Yep, we've heard this before."

Apparently, it was a SCAM! I'm not clear on the details, but if things had gone another way, they would have somehow got me to put in my money, done a switcheroo, and given me a bag of nothing. WHAT? New York, you are crazy.

*UPDATE: I found a description of the scam online. It's called the Pigeon Drop. If a scam is just a way to part a fool and his/her money, I indict you, McDonald's two-for-one apple pie; free shipping over $150, JCrew; and Amazon's Gold Box of deals.

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