The congressman's aide was on vacation last month when the call came to her Capital Hill office from a man who said he was answering her classified ad for the return of a gold bracelet. Her coworkers pooled their money -- $38 in all -- and gave it to a man they met later that day who said he would return with the bracelet within five minutes.

They waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. They never saw the money or the man again, nor, of course, the bracelet.

These legislative aides are among at least 33 people who have been victimized since May 8 in a lost-and-found rip-off scheme played out, police said, by a smooth-talking, easy-going, clean-cut younger man.

Investigators estimated that more than $1,500 was bilked from victims who included an FBI agent who paid $40 for the "return" of his wife's watch, a former D.C. police officer and security agent at National Airport who paid $40 in "veterinarian fees" to get back his lost boxer dog, and an insurance agent who, desperate for the return of $20,000 worth of stolen emeralds, twice was taken for a total of $135.

All the victims had placed classified ads in the lost-and-found section of The Washington Post that were answered by a man who promised -- for a reward -- the return of everything from the lost family pet to the cherished family heirloom jewelry. In all cases, the man never delivered.

Police said one too many ads was answered earlier this month, with the result that Andre Jackson Kisner, 38, was arrested and charged with grand larceny. He is being held in the District Jail pending disposition of the charge.

"We felt that if our readers were being victimized, we ought to help," said Louis Limber, of The Washington Post advertising department.

With the cooperation of the newspaper, police placed a bogus ad in The Post on June 4 offering a reward for a man's lost pocket watch. A man called the listed number the next night, police said, and reached -- unbeknownst to him -- Washington's 3rd Police District headquarters. Detective James Pawlike answered the call and set up a meeting with the caller for that night and arrested Kisner at 6th and K streets NW.

As for the women in the Capitol Hill office, their efforts were a bit overdone, as it turned out. Their colleague who reported the loss of the bracelet found it later -- at home.