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Criminal Justice

Thieves Fling Fake Bird Poop in Golden Gate Park Credit Card Scam

Written by Peter-Astrid KanePublished Jun. 03, 2022 • 1:59pm
Photo taken on March 8, 2021 shows a scene of the San Francisco Botanical Garden in San Francisco, California, the United States. | Wu Xiaoling/Xinhua via Getty Images

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Natural spots around the Bay Area are, typically, covered in bird poop. Excessive avian fecal matter ranks high among visitors’ complaints about Alcatraz—the name is Spanish for “pelican,” after all—while the seldom visited Farallones are essentially coated in guano.

But fake poop may actually present the greater hazard. Sunset District resident Masha Aries said that on May 18, her in-laws, Alison and Dudley Aries, were targeted by two scammers in Golden Gate Park who somehow threw a substance that appeared to be excrement at them, then presented themselves as Good Samaritans willing to wipe them down—before picking their pockets. 

“We were going to a concert at the Botanical Gardens on a Wednesday evening when we walked in to meet them,” Masha Aries, a stay-at-home parent, told The Standard. “They said, ‘You won’t believe what’s happened to us. We got pooped on by birds. It was such a mess, but thankfully there were two people who cleaned us up, saying, ‘I can’t believe this happened to you.’ It was so kind.”

Twenty minutes later, Dudley Aries got an anti-fraud text seeking to verify whether he’d just spent $500 in New York. A second, similar message followed. He soon realized his credit cards were missing from his wallet, including a pre-loaded card used to avoid international fees, which is tantamount to losing cash. His wife quickly realized her cards were gone, too. Visitors from the U.K., the couple suddenly found themselves $4,000 poorer in a foreign country. 

As scams go, it was quite dexterous. Profusely offering wet wipes, the thieves apparently waited until their victims were cleaning each other off before deftly rummaging through their backpack to snatch the cards out of their wallets.

“Using kindness as a weapon is just horrible,” Masha Aries said, adding that the incident made her in-laws feel “very vulnerable, like a couple of oldies who look like tourists.”

The incident occurred in a quiet part of the Botanical Garden, one of Golden Gate Park’s signature attractions. Aries hypothesized that the scammers waited until they were in a somewhat isolated spot before throwing or spraying a gray-brown substance made to look like bird waste. Adding insult to injury, her father had just bought a souvenir cap of the San Francisco skyline. Further, neither could properly identify the thieves—beyond the fact that they were young adults—because they were masked up.

“The pandemic is the bad guys’ friend, isn’t it?” Aries said.

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The couple have not recovered their financial losses. They filed a police report the day after the incident, which the San Francisco Police Department confirmed to The Standard. Alison and Dudley Aries “were sprayed with an unknown substance without their knowledge,” an SFPD spokesperson said, adding that no arrests had been made and that they were not aware of any other incidents of this type.

Asked for comment, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department spokesperson Tamara Aparton said simply, “Rangers have taken no reports about this.”

In hindsight, Alison told her daughter-in-law that she found the offers of help to be “a bit much,” and wished she just accepted the wipes but not the “acute wipedown.” Calling that dynamic “very English,” Masha volunteers that the thieves somehow almost knew to leverage stereotypical British politeness against their victims.

“They’re shaken up,” she said of her in-laws, who nonetheless enjoyed a trip to Calistoga and managed to have fun on the rest of their visit. “They felt really silly, didn’t want to travel with their phones on them. It really hit them hard.”

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Peter-Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]


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