Some Cons and Frauds Common on the Streets of 1980s NYC

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Dec. 17 2013 1:01 PM

Some Cons and Frauds Common on the Streets of 1980s NYC

This pamphlet, distributed by the NYPD’s Special Frauds Squad during the administration of Mayor Ed Koch (1978-89), shows the range of con games and frauds enterprising criminals were then running on New Yorkers and unsuspecting tourists.

Clip art decorates descriptions of face-to-face swindles, all of which require a mark who will listen to a long, involved description of a fictional plight or opportunity. These are person-to-person antecedents of the online phishing scam, made possible by a city full of strangers.

The NYPD Special Frauds Squad has existed in various forms for a century. In the 1980s, the squad dropped its first, and quainter, name—“the Pickpocket and Confidence Squad”—and incorporated other units to become the more general “Special Frauds Squad.”

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The kinds of frauds committed in New York change rapidly. Interviewed by the New York Times in 1994, Special Frauds Det. Richard Ianozzi added many new crimes to the list here. “Special fraudsters” in the ’90s faked lottery tickets (used to convince victims to buy in for a supposed split of the prize); counterfeited cashiers’ checks, printed on newly-accurate laser printers; and stole TV cameras, lifting them from unsuspecting cameramen in town for the World Cup.

The Special Frauds Squad has now added the prevention of identity theft—the absence of which is, along with the unselfconscious dig at “gypsies,” the thing that most dates this pamphlet—to its roster of duties.

I found this pamphlet in the files of the great Prelinger Library, in San Francisco.

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Prelinger Library.

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Prelinger Library.

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Prelinger Library.

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Prelinger Library.

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