When Covington Police Detective Steve Fowler noticed a man speaking with a woman in the parking lot of Kroger on Tuesday he just had a feeling that something wasn’t quite right. His gut instinct paid off and an Atlanta man is now in jail for a crime committed April 16 that he was attempting to repeat on Tuesday.
Detectives from the CPD received a report on April 16 of a man falling victim to the pigeon drop scam – a scam in which a person (the pigeon) is tricked into giving up a sum of money in order to get their hands on a larger sum of money but is instead loses their cash.
According to detective D.J. Seals, the victim told police that someone approached him on the Covington square and asked for his assistance in making a donation to a fictional church. The man wanted to give the victim a large amount of money to donate on his behalf, but before entrusting him with the money, he asked the victim to give him a good faith offering.
The victim reportedly went to an ATM and withdrew more than $500 and gave the money to this man in exchange for a tightly wound bandana that felt as if it were full of cash. And it was – play money and paper cut into cash-sized strips.
"He quickly realized he’d been duped," said Seals.
Fast forward more than two weeks and Fowler noticed this same man, eventually identified as 52-year-old Clifford Neal, Jr., in the grocery store parking lot speaking with an unsuspecting woman.
Seals said that when Fowler began walking in Neal’s direction he immediately left the woman he was speaking to and began to walk away. When the woman was questioned, she began giving detectives a run-down of the church donation scheme that had worked on the victim in the square, though she had not yet given him any money.
Officers descended on the parking lot and arrested Neal, charging him with theft by deception and giving false statements.
"We believe there may be more victims," said Seals. "In these schemes a lot of times people are reluctant to come forward out of, you name it, embarrassment, they feel they’ve been duped. We don’t want those people to be reluctant. If they have had contact with Neal or anyone else in regards to a scheme like this we want to know."
Detectives do not believe that Neal was acting alone in the scheme because traditionally these types of scams are never one-man jobs. Interviews are also leading detectives to believe that more than one person is involved as well. They urge anyone who has been approached in the city with a scam such as this – whether they gave money or not – to report these people.
"This is not someone who looks like a vagrant," Seals cautioned. "He is very sharp, very well-dressed. The people who perpetrate these crimes all appear and sound very professional. They are smooth talkers – definitely hustlers."
Anyone with information on Neal or anyone else perpetrating this scam is asked to contact Seals at (770) 385-2144. Tips can remain anonymous.