Black money scam
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The black money scam, sometimes also known as the "black dollar scam" or "wash wash scam", is a scam where con artists attempt to fraudulently obtain money from a victim by convincing him or her that piles of banknote-sized paper in a trunk or a safe are actually currency notes that have been dyed to avoid detection by authorities. The victim is persuaded to pay fees and purchase chemicals to remove the dye, with the promise of a share in the proceeds.
The black money scam is a variation of what is known as advance fee fraud.
Phases of the scam
Typically the scammer will send out thousands, if not millions of e-mails to known and random e-mail addresses, hoping for a few replies. The initial message may read something like this:
I am a lawyer in Belgium and I am charged with seeking the rightful heir to certain assets which were deposited many years ago with a security company here in Brussels by a man who died a few years ago. We have made extensive searches to find any living heirs, but with minimal success. A man with your name is named in the Will and Testament as being the only beneficiary of these assets. We believe that you may be the person entitled and are writing to enquire if you have any dead relatives or friends who may have named you as a beneficiary of these assets in their will and testament. If so please let us have their names and any other information so we can check if you are indeed the beneficiary. The amount of the assets is $150,000 and one large trunk, contents unknown. Please reply immediately
Sometimes however, the scammer resorts to directly approaching the victim.
Advance fees: the fraud starts
As the communications between the two parties continue, it will become necessary for certain fees and expenses to be paid, including government taxes, or death duties. In reality, there are no such taxes to be paid. However the need to pay fees or taxes is used as an excuse to make any free funds vanish, and/or to extract funds from the victim.
A trunk full of black money?
Eventually by various means and devices the victim will be persuaded that the trunk contains a large sum of cash, which cannot be transferred in any other form (bonds, cheques, etc.) for some reason. In addition, the bills have been dyed black or some other color in order to avoid detection or seizure by customs officials. The victim is assured that the chemical needed for removing the dye is also in the trunk.
The victim may have already paid some money to pay fees and taxes, and he may now be invited to pay the shipping expenses of the trunk to his home country. Whether these are paid or not, the trunk will not be shipped and further sums will be demanded on various pretexts, such as taxes, security company fees, money transfer fees, legalization fees, export permissions, etc.
Victim goes to see the "money"
When at some point the victim is having doubts, or showing reluctance to pay any more, he will be invited to inspect the contents of the safety deposit trunk himself. With much ceremony and pomp, the box will be opened and the contents - banknote-sized pieces of ordinary black paper - are shown to the victim. The scammer will claim that a chemical exists which can remove the dye from the money.
Washing a small sample of the black "money"
Then the conman will produce a small vial of the washing liquid and ask the victim to select any stained bank note at random. This done, the conman proceeds to wash the banknote in the chemical, performing a sleight of hand in which he substitutes either an already-clean note or one stained with dye that can be removed by the chemical. There will be insufficient liquid to wash any more money, or the conman may "accidentally" spill the remaining contents.
More funds needed to pay for washing chemical fluid
The victim cannot take away the trunk, or any notes, since he is informed that the taxes have not been paid, but once the notes are "washed", it will be easy to pay the taxes and there will be money left over. The victim is persuaded that he must buy the chemical to wash the notes, and of course the chemical cleaning fluid is "very expensive". Once again the victim parts with money to the fraudster. Sometimes the fraudsters will set up a website purporting to be a seller of the cleaning fluid, which obviously has such a unique and unusual name that it can not be found anywhere else. This adds to the credibility of the story and the victim may even contact the website directly to buy the fluid, allowing the conmen yet another chance to con the victim. Alternatively the conmen may also refer the victim to a specific online advertisement for the chemical and black money.
Delay after delay, more fees, no money
The fraudsters will continue to find excuses as to why the victim cannot have his money just yet, but will always promise it after one "last and absolutely final step", which obviously involves the payment of yet another fee by the victim. The scammers will continue to milk the victim until they are sure he has no more money, and that he cannot get any by begging and borrowing from friends or banks, or until the victim realizes that he is being scammed, and gets the police involved. Needless to say, the fraudsters themselves, and the victim's money, are usually long gone by the time the police are involved.
Reporting of the crime
Most such frauds are not reported by the victims for several reasons. First, they may feel terribly ashamed that they could be so naïve. Second, many of the scams will involve the victim knowingly agreeing to receive the proceeds of a crime - e.g. he may be informed that it is drug money, tax evasion money, or simply stolen. Sometimes the scammer will have persuaded the victim to incriminate himself, e.g. by falsifying a document, or lying on a tax declaration etc. The victim may thus be reluctant to come forward and admit that he was knowingly participating in what he thought was a criminal scheme.
Terminology used in the scam
- The defaced money
- Anti-breeze bank notes
- Black Money
- The chemical
- S.S.D. Solution
- Vectrol Paste
- Humine Powder
- solid solution
- Shiba / Fay
A Ghanaian native caught perpetrating the scam revealed to ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross the tricks of the trade. Authentic US$100 bills are coated with a protective layer of glue, and then dipped into a solution of tincture of iodine. The bill, when dried, looks and feels like black sugar paper. The mass of notes are real sugar paper; when the victim picks a "note" for cleaning, it is switched with the iodine coated note. The "magic cleaning solution" is actually crushed Vitamin C tablets dissolved in water. In another arrest, ordinary raspberry drink mix was found to be the "magic cleaning solution". Solutions of calcium hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide have also been used as washing agents in the scam.
- Metropolitan Police Information on the fraud from the London Metropolitan Police Service
- BBC An article from the BBC on how a businessman was conned out of $742,000.
- Two conmen in dollar bill hoax arrested Gulf News article from December 2018.
- Fraudaid How to do it.
- IOL Cops arrest 'black dollar' victim October 2007