Conmen swindle several local businesses

Businesses in Dinkytown and Stadium Village have raised the issue of “quick change artists.”

Ian Larson

Swindlers have been targeting businesses near the University of Minnesota, tricking cashiers into handing over too much change, business owners have said. At recent business association meetings, businesses in Dinkytown and Stadium Village have raised the issue of âÄúquick change artistsâÄù âÄî conmen who swindle businesses by tricking them into handing over incorrect change. Laurel Bauer, owner of House of Hanson, a small Dinkytown grocery store, said the thieves sometimes work in pairs to split the cashierâÄôs attention. The thievesâÄô goal, business owners said, is simply to overwhelm the cashier by adding and removing items from the purchase and by repeatedly asking for change in different denominations. They sometimes become confrontational and assert that they were given incorrect change. The conmen often deal with amounts only as large as $100, so their take is limited. Dinkytown Business Association President Skott Johnson said the swindlers work an area for a short time and then move on. âÄúThey seem to go in cycles,âÄù Johnson said. âÄúOnce they get shooed out of Dinkytown because people know what they look like, they go on to another part of town.âÄù The practice isnâÄôt new, but itâÄôs not something common to the University area because there isnâÄôt a large business presence, University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said. âÄúItâÄôs obviously something thatâÄôs been going on for as long as currency has existed,âÄù Miner said. Bauer said it isnâÄôt always possible to file a police report. âÄúYou call 911 if you can keep them around long enough, but itâÄôs not a priority call.âÄù While some business owners have seen a recent spike in âÄúquick change artistâÄù activity, others reported different sorts of skullduggery. Kristen Eide-Tollefson, owner of the Book House in Dinkytown, said customers have attempted to take books off the store shelves and have brought them to the counter to sell them back to the store. Eide-Tollefson said one such thief was âÄúclearly skilled, but I didnâÄôt buy it.âÄù Eide-Tollefson said the con could be particularly hurtful for small businesses and could wipe out one-tenth of a dayâÄôs take. Most business owners said theyâÄôve spoken with employees about the con and hope to put an end to it by enforcing strict policies about breaking large bills for paying customers only. The Tea Garden now breaks change only for paying customers as a reaction to quick change artists, Tea Garden employee and University student Lea Green said. âÄúItâÄôs all right to say âÄòweâÄôre not a bank,âÄô âÄù Bauer said. Eide-Tollefson suggested that businesses in Dinkytown were particularly vulnerable to the con because of the âÄútrusting attitudeâÄù in the area. Johnson said the businesses share knowledge of the swindlers in hopes of limiting their success in the area. âÄúItâÄôs sort of a village culture; people look out for each other,âÄù Eide-Tollefson said.