The black money scam, sometimes also known as the 'wash wash scam', is a scam where con artists attempt to fraudulently obtain money from a victim by persuading him or her that piles of banknote-sized paper in a trunk or a safe is really money which has been dyed black (e.g. to avoid detection by customs). The victim is persuaded to pay for chemicals to wash the "money" with a promise that he will share in the proceeds.
The black money scam first appeared around the year 2000. It is yet another 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 without 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
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 very large amount of cash which had a legitimate, or not so legitimate, reason for all this money to be in cash. Furthermore, the money has all been stained black to avoid detection by customs. A valid reason for this will be given: "The deceased traded in African artifacts and had to pay for some expensive items in cash before he died. To avoid customs problems and theft the money had to be stained black"
The victim is assured that the chemical needed for washing the money is also in the trunk.
The victim may have already coughed up 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 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. The list is endless.
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 to reveal the black paper. The victim will be informed that these are banknotes stained black with an almost unwashable chemical but that a chemical exists which can clean the banknotes.
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 black bank note at random. This done, the conman proceeds to wash the banknote in the chemical, performing a sleight of hand
, substituting real note which is washed. There will be insufficient liquid to wash any more money, or the conman may simply "knock" the bottle on the floor.
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 millions 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.
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 realises that he is being scammed, and gets the police involved. Needless to say the fraudsters themselves and the victim's money is 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. Firstly they may feel terribly ashamed that they could be so stupid and naïve. Secondly, 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
A Ghanaian native caught perpetrating the scam revealed to ABC News
Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross the tricks of the trade:
Real hundred dollar bills are coated with a protective layer of Elmer's glue and then dipped into a solution of tincture of iodine
. The bill, when dried, looks and feels like black construction paper
. The trunk full of notes are real construction 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 cool drink was also found to be the "magic cleaning solution".