Police allege Cody Ramey pretended he had to cash a check when he called a taxi cab and asked the driver to wait outside a Home Depot store in Santa Ana.
Surveillance video showed the 30-year-old transient inside the store passing a note to the cashier.
"The cashier reads the note, which tells him to get money and he has a gun," said Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
Police said the cashier put more than $800 into a pouch and gave it to Ramey, who then ordered the worker to walk away as he left the store. But his choice for a getaway car, a bright yellow cab, was hard to miss as sat outside the Home Depot.
"I've never heard of it in this city," sadi Bertagna. "Maybe in New York, Chicago, somewhere big where there's a lot of cabs. But this is out of the norm for us."
A witness copied down the taxi number and called police, who then contacted the cab company to find out if the car was equipped with a GPS tracking device.
"Our dispatch center is in St. George, Utah, so when the police were talking to our people there, they were looking at a dot on a map that was driving down Bristol and were able to guide the police from the dispatch center there," said California Yellow Cab President Tim Conlon.
In the meantime, the taxi driver got a call from dispatch letting him know more about his passenger. He then pulled over about four miles from the Home Depot. Police arrested Ramey within minutes after a short foot pursuit.
"The suspect is tackled and has the money, the money bag and the note on his possession," said Bertagna.
Police said Ramey, an Ohio resident with two prior arrests in that state for driving under the influence, was being held in the Santa Ana jail on suspicion of robbery.