Scammers targeting older Black women who were in sororities, police say

Scammers targeting older Black women who were in sororities, police say

An older woman was sitting in her van at a Home Depot parking lot when a man and a woman approached, according to court records. They told her they found a pocketbook full of cash and would split it with her — but first they needed to verify that the money was “legit.” That encounter, Prince George’s County police say, was the start of a “pigeon drop” scam that eventually ended in the arrest of a Maryland man who is accused of targeting older Black women and forcing them to banks to steal thousands of dollars.

Keith Twiggs, 59, was arrested and charged this week in at least two scams in Prince George’s, but authorities say there have been at least eight such incidents reported in the county this year involving victims who have lost anywhere between $8,000 to $60,000 each. Pigeon scams often involve two people telling a victim they found a large amount of unclaimed money or funds. The scammers then convince the victim that every one involved should contribute cash as an act of “good faith” to secure a share of the “found” money.

In the reported cases in Prince George’s, suspects are strategically targeting older Black women in the community who are members of sororities, said Lt. Joseph Bellino, the commander of the financial crimes unit for the police department.

“They have targeted exclusively African American women 65 years and older,” Bellino said. “Most of them are driving newer vehicles, high-end cars. Some of them have insignia associated with college sororities. We believe the suspects are targeting them as a means of having knowledge that they are college educated and have wealth.”

The scheme “usually involves two Suspects approaching the victim and attempting to put them in a heightened state of emotion and cause confusion,” police said in charging documents.

In the case of the woman in the Home Depot parking lot on May 6, Twiggs and another person eventually convinced the woman to drive to a bank in Southeast Washington. The victim explained to police that she was afraid and nervous and went along with what Twiggs and the other woman told her to do. While at the bank the suspects advised the woman to withdraw $8,000 against her will. One of the suspects was with her in the bank and the woman said she was afraid she or bank employees might get hurt if she said anything, according to charging documents.

The victim, police said in court documents, “was inconsolable and advised that she was not sure of their intentions and wanted to get out of the situation alive.”

After withdrawing the money, they drove back to the Home Depot parking lot.

The woman with Twiggs took the money from the victim and eventually left.

The second reported “pigeon drop” incident Twiggs has been charged in occurred on June 26. While an older woman sat in a parking lot along Annapolis Road in the Lanham area, two suspects abruptly entered the woman’s vehicle, according to court records. The suspects told the woman to drive to Truist Bank to withdraw funds. After withdrawing $10,000, one of the suspects pushed the woman to the ground, taking the envelope of cash.

Using surveillance video from one of the parking lots, police learned that a car driven by one of the people who approached a victim had been rented out by Twiggs.

On June 29, the financial crimes unit located Twiggs as he was taking a vehicle that he received from a Chevy Cadillac dealership to test drive, detectives wrote in charging documents. Twiggs stopped at the dealership’s fuel pump for gas and was arrested on the scene, court documents stated.

That same day police conducted a police search in Twiggs’s vehicle and residence in Temple Hills. While there police found cocaine, fraudulent “motion picture” money, and letters used to scam victims, charging documents state. Investigators also found $13,113 in cash located in a safe, according to police.

Twiggs is charged with eight counts, including kidnapping, theft, robbery, assault and illegal possession of a firearm. The public defender’s office, which is representing Twiggs, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“These scams are effective because people are approached by someone who’s appearance is unassuming,” Bellino said. “They’re older, sometimes wearing dress clothes, and appear to not be intimidating.”

Bellino advised older woman in the community to be aware of their surroundings after shopping and walking to their car.

There is an ongoing investigation to locate more suspects.

Brian Fischer, manager of the media relations division for the Prince George’s County police, said anyone can be susceptible to scams or fraudulent calls and emails.

“I’ve received calls from Amazon that my account had been tampered with and I need to give them credit card accounts. The best one was a call from Publishers Clearing House that I won a sweepstakes and had to pay $2,500. So these scams are actually a major problem for everybody,” Fischer said.

Many are ashamed of being a victim of such crimes, according to police. Bellino assured victims to not be embarrassed and that this can happen to anyone. The best thing a victim can do is report on the day of the incident.

“There’s a multitude of ways victims are dealing with this,” Bellino said. “Some will tell us and not their loved one, and others will take weeks to tell their loved ones before it gets to us. We believe there are many other victims out there.”

Investigators are encouraging victims who had a similar encounter with Twiggs, or were the victim of another pigeon scam incident in Prince George’s County to come forward.

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