I’ve been trying for a while to figure out a clear, concise way to explain the Pigeon Drop Scam, but I’ve had trouble keeping the article length reasonable. There are a lot of variations on this very old scam.
The basics are pretty much the same across the board. A stranger approaches you, claiming to have found a large sum of money. Sometimes the money is in a bag, or a box, or a duffel. Sometimes it’s made to look like evidence of a crime, with a note or some other indicator (so the victim thinks whoever it belonged to isn’t likely to come looking for it through legal means). Some scammers work alone, some use an accomplice. At some point, you will be asked to hand over some of your own cash. But there are so many variables to the scheme that it’s hard to even identify what the “classic pigeon drop” scam would look like, to use as an example to write about.
Therefore, it’s probably best to just point you to a video where somebody shows you instead of tells you how this thing works. I found a couple decent ones where a couple pigeon drop scenarios are acted out (in one case on an unsuspecting “victim” who is later let in on the scam and has his cash returned by the crew making the video):
The common thread: a stranger who claims to find money, then asks you to give him or her some of your own for some reason.
The point is this: as soon as a stranger approaches you claiming to have found cash, regardless of how many people you find yourself talking to, regardless of the pitch (whether it’s “hey let’s divvy it up!” or “hold this while I report it” or something else entirely), you are not going to end up a winner if you go along with what that person asks you to do.
Given that this is an in-person scam, I would not recommend letting on that you’re suspicious. Politely suggest they report the find to the police, then walk away. As soon as it is safe to do so, call the police yourself with as good a description of the crook as you can give. You might help someone else avoid being a victim, and you might even help a terrible person run headlong into some well-deserved terrible luck.