Almost exactly five years ago, we were minding our own business at the Downtown Transit Center light rail stop one evening. A suave and well-dressed middle-aged black man came up to us and introduced himself and spun an outrageous tale about being an exiled South African king.
In a heavy African accent, he said he had been on a freighter for six months with "nothing but the sky above and the waves below" and that he was past ready to find a "good-time girl" so he could "shake his rutabaga."
In case I didn't get the message, he grabbed his crotch to show me exactly what he meant. The trouble was, good-time girls like cash, and he had none on hand, even though he was a very wealthy man, he went on.
He was just having a little trouble navigating the American banking system, and he could see that I was an intelligent Christian man who would be willing to help out a black man down on his luck. As if all those appeals to my good nature weren't enough, he also said he would make it very much worth my while if I could help him get some money out of an ATM.
I knew from the get-go it was a scam, but man, was this guy good. I played along for a half-hour or so, all so I could get this story, but it took me more strength than I ever imagined to finally tell the guy to get lost, and when I finally did, half of me was cursing myself for letting this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity slip past.
Of course, the guy was a straight-up con artist, and the scam he tried to run on me is an old reliable. Had I continued, he would have traded me a bundle of pulped newspaper (purporting to be lots of cash) for several hundred dollars of my real money.
And recently, three guys in Texas City were caught doing the same thing, this time to Spanish-speakers.
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In this case, it was a trio of guys, all very well-dressed. One of them even had a tale about the provenance of his cash: he had gotten it as a settlement from the 2005 BP plant explosion. They said they didn't trust banks, and would compensate their new friend for helping them withdraw money. The cops think the scam worked on at least one as-yet-unidentified mark, as the perps were found to be in possession of a stack of bank-crisp C-notes.
Charles Ray Johnson, 55; Danny Daniel Johnson, 56; and Richard Overton Jr., 56, each were charged with one count of theft. One of the guys also had a pair of loaded dice on him, and the trio also had a deck of marked cards that police believe was used in rigged games of Three Card Monte.
All are still in Galveston County Jail on $30,000 bond; though neither of the two guys whose mugshots we were able to obtain was the same guy who tried to scam me, in case you were wondering.