5 of the most amazing true urban legends in criminal justice

davidsonscott15, Flickr

People who say “if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is” need to be smacked right in the face with something heavy, because cliches are just an easy way to excuse yourself from critical thinking. And besides, even if something that sounds too good to be true may not be true, there is a small chance that the tale you’re hearing could be true. These criminal justice stories prove that the law of averages was made to be broken (and may or may not technically be a felony).

Photo credit: davidsonscott15, Flickr

5 The Lebanese Loop ATM Scheme

Tax Credits, Flickr

ATM schemes have long been the target of meth addicts and crooks who think that all of life’s problems can be solved by tying it to the back of a Ford F150 pickup and driving around various random county roads. This scheme not only managed to snag thousands of credit cards and bank account numbers, but the spreading of its infamous story helped it become such a high profile crime.

The Lebanese Loop scheme consists of placing a plastic sleeve in an ATM card slot that prevents the machine from reading any cards. The schemer is actually waiting behind the victim and offers them help to retrieve their card by having them enter their PIN and press a special combination of buttons to make their story sound as if the same problem had happened to them. When the victim walks away thinking their card is safely stuck in the machine and will be retrieved by the bank, the schemer takes the card, enters the pin after watching the victim enter it and cleans out their bank account. Several victims tried to pass off their crime by sending emails to their friends, but most of them are passed off or deleted as so much forwarded spam along with so much racist jokes, meaningless chain mail and karmic prayers passed on by mothers with nothing better to do during the day than flood their children’s email in-boxes with pictures of kittens.

Photo credit: Tax Credits, Flickr

4 The Crooks Who Called 911 on Themselves

Cubosh, Flickr

It’s easy to suck people’s attention in with stories of stupidity because it’s not hard to believe just how low the intelligence of some people can sink when they really put their minds to it… or don’t, technically. Then when you realize just how stupid some people can become, you sink into a deep depression, develop an extreme fear of humanity and start collecting teddy bears because even though they may not have souls, they cannot disappoint you in anyway.

For years, tales of crooks accidentally calling 911 on themselves have floated around the Internet with the steady tenacity of an Internet comedy troupe who just know they can make it to the big time if they can just turn their “Bear Fights a Baby” video into a viral gem. The sad part is that most of them are true. The calls range from various drug charges to burglars who accidentally dialed the police and gave police everything about their whereabouts, except for the style of ski-mask used to complete their caper. For instance, in October of 2004, a Florida woman accidentally dialed 911 as part of a wrong number and quickly hung up the phone and after police tracked the number as part of procedure, they discovered a meth lab in the woman’s house. Then in 2005 in Tennessee, two burglars didn’t even get to complete their crime when one accidentally dialed 911 on the cell phone in his pocket and police listened in on their conversation for more than 40 minutes about their upcoming heist, down to their intended target where police were waiting to pick them up for their incriminating “butt dial.”

By the way, the dude in the picture actually called 911 twice in the same day to tell them that he was hungry.

Photo credit: Cubosh, Flickr

3 The Corpse Found in the Carpet

crazytales562, Flickr

Stories about college students failing to notice the obvious in everything from drunk driving checkpoints to bongs left in bags at airport security x-rays often get passed off as truth because, well, college students are easy to trick. They are technically adults but are on so many prescription and non-prescription narcotics floating through their bloodstream that just about any criminal could snag their wallet by dangling something shiny in their faces.

So a story about three Columbia University students failing to notice something as obvious as a badly decomposing body naturally sounds plausible because college students lack an abilities such as observance and maintaining their own regular hygienic practices. It just so happens that just such a thing happened. Three students found a discarded, rolled-up carpet on the sidewalk and thought it would look good in their dorm room so they lugged it back to their house. Only when they unrolled the thing did they discover they had actually been carrying the decaying corpse of a 20-year-old male with two bullet wounds in his head. More than likely, they still kept the carpet.

Photo credit: crazytales562, Flickr

2 The Streakers Who Had Their Car Stolen

ctsnow, Flickr

The concept of streaking never really struck me as an effective method of public anarchy because the people who do it are the last people anyone should ever see naked, and anyone who thinks it’s a victimless happening in criminal justice doesn’t understand the concept of gravity.

One story of fate and nature getting back at one of crime’s lumpiest acts has been surfacing across the Internet since 2004 about three streakers getting what they deserve sounded too good to be true in a world where the bad go unpunished, but in this case, it’s a reaffirming nugget of truth. Three very easily amused men entered a Denny’s restaurant in Spokane, Washington in 2004 wearing only a pair of shoes and hats and sprinted nude through the place before heading out into the clearly frigid cold night. The only problem is that when they got into the parking lot, the car they drove to the restaurant in wasn’t there. It turns out that one of the customers in the restaurant darted into the parking lot as the three men strut their stuff and drove off in their car, leaving them with no ride and no clothes.

Photo credit: ctsnow, Flickr

1 The Bank Robbers’ Thank You Note

Ski Mask Kid, Flickr

Politeness is such a rarity these days and it’s a mystery why you can’t even get a simple “thank you” out of someone you just hold a door open for or prevented them from walking into the path of a runway dump truck. You don’t need to have a criminal justice degree to figure out that this is probably one of the single dumbest crimes ever committed.

One urban legend rounded the Internet attempted to correct this simple mannerism in the form of a story of a couple of robbers who gave one of their victims a “thank you” note and it would have worked if the people being polite weren’t armed criminals. One of the biggest bank heists in Japanese history actually ended with a very polite note from the very same people who knocked it over that read “Thank you very much for the bonus. We can live on this loot for life.”

Photo credit: Ski Mask Kid, Flickr

(Previously published on August 24, 2011.)