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The Chicago Subway Recidivist Scam

There’s new scam on the Chicago El (elevated train or subway, if you’re not from around here). It’s better than “help me, I’m homeless,” much more imaginative than the shell game, which has made a comeback in recent years. For the latest innovation in separating the fool and his money, I give you: The Recidivist Scam.

This has been going on for at least a month, and I’ve run into it seemingly every other time I’ve been on the train between 9am and 5pm. A man will stand up and announce he’s just been released from prison and needs money for, pick a few items from the list of: toiletries, an El (train) pass to get to interviews, printing resumes, or food. It’s not usually the same list, just as you get different people spouting the line. A popular scam, this one.

Still, the variant I ran into this afternoon out-shown all others. This time the man in question was wearing a suit and tie. Granted, the suit coat had no lapel and it looked like he was interviewing at a record label, not a bank, but the suit coat and pants matched. Looked a little on the swanky side for a recent parolee, he did. As he gave the standard speech, asking only for money for a train pass, he produced a wanted poster. Yes, like you see in the post office. I guess it was supposed to be his credentials as having in jail? Better, I’m not positive, but I think the poster was laminated. For some reason, I didn’t feel like stepping up and examining it closely, though I’m very curious whether the picture on that poster was of him or not.

Now if you think a man waving around a wanted poster and asking for money is a little on the odd side of the tracks, that’s nothing. He produced the poster from a leather portfolio. A conservative, businesslike leather portfolio, for what its worth. 

If ever you think that America is losing its innovators, you’re merely looking in the wrong place. The scammers on the Chicago trains are as inventive as anyone in Silicon Valley.

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