My beloved younger daughter, while waiting to hear back from grad schools, has been working retail. And recently she won a stuffed dog at work for knowing (during a training session) what a short-change swindle was. So, in hopes that you too will be able to win a stuffed dog, here is the Short Change Con. This one has been going on for a while (here it is in 1906) and there’s no reason to think it’ll stop any time soon.
Way back in The underlying forms of fraud a decade ago, Miss Teresa listed 2. Using high-pressure tactics to confuse or intimidate the victim but commented The list is a work in progress. I’m not altogether sure #2 belongs on it, though I’m not sure why or why not…. Well, it is, and Short Change is a perhaps the purest example of it, purer even than a used-car salesman or PublishAmerica’s versions of High Pressure Confusion Scamming.
Here’s the bare-bones version of the scam (from Snarlyboodle):
You’ll start with a $10 bill, a $5 bill, and 15 $1 bills.
Buy something for under $5.
Pay with a $10 bill.
As your change of up to $5 is being retrieved, ask for another $10 bill for ten $1 bills you’re pulling out of your wallet.
Leave your original $5 change out, but pick up the $10 bill while you hand over only nine $1 bills.
Have them check the count as you go through your wallet, putting away the $10 bill and pulling out more singles.
They will count nine $1 bills, so you add 1 more $1 bill and throw on another five $1 bills and a $5 bill and ask for a $20 bill. Cashiers always like to make smaller change for their drawer.
They put the fifteen $1 bills and one $5 bill away and give you a $20 in return.
You just made $10.
Please go read the entire post.
And here’s a video tutorial for performing this scam.
While, in general, reading comments on YouTube videos is a waste of time, in this case the comments are about equal “That was a fake, they were both actors, that’ll never work in the real world” and “OMG that just happened to me today!” In actual fact, this scam is performed successfully somewhere in America once every nine seconds. A scammer can make $40 an hour just by walking up one side of the street and down the other (or from shop to shop in a mall) running this scam; all it has to do is hit once every fifteen minutes. If it doesn’t work, move on to the next place. If someone’s wise to it, what’s there for anyone to prove? You were just confused and made a mistake. Is that a crime now?
It’s a wonderful combination of high pressure and confusion, and no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is a con. A cheat. A swindle. Totally belongs on the list.
Want to go over the Short Change scam again? Here’s another version of the same con, on a page full of entertaining cons.
Entertaining until you get bitten by one, that is. No one is so street-smart, so cynical, and so canny that the right pitch on the right day by the right person won’t take them. These cons got to be classics by working reliably all day every day. See, for example, this hidden-camera view of the Pigeon Drop being run on a random citizen.
An article on protecting yourself from the Short Change Swindle. The condensed version is don’t let yourself get distracted. Which can be tough since the con artists may work in teams with other members of the team having ‘distract the cashier’ as their job. These guys do it all day, every day. They’re good at it.
Okay, you’re now set to win a dog at work.
Which brings us around to somewhat similar con, in that the con artist gets change for an overpayment. We’ve mentioned this before: Scams from the Mailbag. There it was the Secret Shopper swindle. You get a spam email offering to make you a Secret Shopper. They’ll send you a check for $3,000. You deposit it in your account, take $200 to make a purchase at a local store (you get to keep what you buy!), get another $100 for your pay, and you send back the change by Western Union to some address. Piece of cake, right? Except two weeks later, when it turns out that the check was forged, you’re on the hook for the entire amount, plus a fee for depositing a bad check. You’ve already sent off $2,700 and change. Which you’ll never see again.
While the short change con relies on people being distracted and trying to be helpful (and cashiers are paid to try to be helpful), the counterfeit check scams rely on people trying to be helpful and honest. (You can, indeed, cheat an honest man.) Here’s the scam in the form of someone who wants to rent a property (or a room, or an apartment) who sends a check for more than the deposit/first month’s rent/whatever and asks the landlord to send back the change.
Which gets us to the current variant. A nice young lady is looking for a job as a babysitter/nanny/whatever, and advertises. In comes a letter, with picture of a cute kid, asking a lot of questions (e.g. “Are you CPR and first aid certified?”). You reply to the letter, having put no small amount of time/effort into answering the questions (thus getting invested in the deal, along with the promised $900/week). Hurrah! You’re hired!
You get a check from some third party, for your first month’s pay, plus a couple of thousand dollars that you weren’t expecting. Now … oh noes! You get a panicky phone call from someone claiming to be the lady who just hired you. She’s in England, having gone there with the Cute Kid to attend her mother’s funeral, and her banker/accountant/lawyer/agent has sent you your pay plus the price of her plane ticket home! She’ll be stranded! Could you be a dear, pop down to the bank, take the overage and wire it to her? Thanks! You’re a peach!
Again, the high pressure.
Then, a week later, the bank tells you that the check didn’t clear, and you’re on the hook for the entire amount, as above.
Here’s a story in the New York Times on this exact swindle. And here’s another story in the Times about a young lady who was taken by it to the tune of $3K. Please do read the entire article. (If it changes location, search on “Dazzled by a Cute Picture, More Nannies Fall for Swindle.”)