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Scam artists use sleight of hand, police say

By Andrew Adams | Posted - Sep 10th, 2013 @ 7:50pm

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UTAH COUNTY — Police from two Utah County agencies are looking for a trio of scam artists who used tricks by sleight of hand to swindle businesses out of money.

Orem Police Lt. Craig Martinez said Tuesday the two women and a man, dressed in ball caps and driving a minivan, hit Walmart stores in Orem as well as in Lindon on Sept. 4.

In the Orem case, detectives said the man distracted one worker at the customer service desk while the two women confused another employee. At one point, surveillance video showed one of the women reaching into the cash register and pulling out a stack of hundred dollar bills right under the confused worker's nose, siphoning away an undisclosed number of bills from the bottom of the stack.

"There's a lot of confusion going around," Martinez said. "You've got one or two cashiers against three people that know what they're doing. It's quite difficult."

At the center of the ruse was a simple scam police said they have seen many times in the past. Known as "short changing" or "change raising," the con first makes a legitimate purchase or money exchange. After that, however, the con will ask for more money exchanges until the issue of how much money is flowing from one party to another is confused enough that money can disappear without the victim immediately knowing.

The Orem Walmart surveillance video showed one woman passing a large bill in an apparent attempt to purchase a gift card. Martinez said the women were able to confuse the matter to the point that the worker seemed to simply watch as the women reached into the till and pulled out stacks of money two different times. Each time, the surveillance video showed one of the women spiriting money away.

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"This one is the first one I've seen where they actually reach over, grab the money from the cash drawer, and then steal some off the bottom," Martinez said. "It's almost like a card trick."

Martinez said the women told the worker they were a Swedish mother and daughter who didn't fully understand matters of currency.

"The cashiers and the employees at Walmart are always very customer oriented, so they try to be as friendly as possible," Martinez said. "These people prey on that as well."

Another man was caught on surveillance video at the customer service desk and then rendezvousing with the women in the parking lot is believed to be an accomplice, Martinez said. The three left in a minivan.

The trio similarly took advantage of workers at the Walmart in Lindon, Martinez said.

Lindon City Police Chief Cody Cullimore did not immediately return calls and emails Tuesday.

Orem investigators said it's possible the three suspects may be traveling across the country, perpetrating the same scam wherever they stop.

Regardless, police said the man and women could also be locals and they're urging retailers to watch for them.

Anybody with information about the individuals seen in the surveillance video or about what took place can call the Orem Department of Public Safety at (801) 229-7070.


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