African con artist sells black paper as ‘U.S. cash’

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African con artist sells black paper as ‘U.S. cash’

African con artists have found another way to swindle Koreans, this time by selling pieces of regular paper that they claim are actually U.S. banknotes.

In this so-called “black money” or “money wash” scam, unsuspecting victims are persuaded that stacks of banknote-sized black pieces of paper are $100 bills that have been dyed black and smuggled from a U.S. relief fund for Africa. Wide-eyed victims then pay large amounts of money for heaps of black paper and a dye-remover machine or liquid, believing they have purchased U.S. dollars far below the exchange rate.

Last month, a 45-year-old Korean businessman was strolling through Itaewon, a popular neighborhood in Seoul known for its many cafes, bars and foreign restaurants, when a Liberian approached him and said he had a lucrative business proposal. After leading the Korean to a nearby parked van, he fed a piece of black paper into a small machine, and soon the device spit out a crisp $100 bill. The businessman took the bill to a bank, where he was told that it was genuine.

He paid 540 million won ($463,100) for the machine and a sizable portion of black paper. He borrowed the money from associates.

The machine was a simple paper dispenser previously loaded for the demonstration with a genuine banknote.

Not long after, a slightly different scam took place in Hannam-dong, Seoul. A 32-year-old victim was shown a genuine $100 bill dyed black. The scammer dipped it into a glass of so-called special liquid and the dye came off. The victim recorded the entire process with his mobile phone before paying 40 million won for the black papers.

The special liquid was plain detergent solution.

So far, police have identified four victims and estimate around 1.2 billion won in financial damages.

The Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency arrested the Liberian, who had entered Korea on a 3-month travel visa, for fraud last Thursday. There are seven other African accomplices still on the run. Police also confiscated 100,000 pieces of banknote-sized black paper, a total of $15,000, paper dispensers and 14 kilograms (31 pounds) of detergent.

A police spokesperson said, “These crimes persist because there are people willing to use illicit means to get rich quick.”


BY KIM MIN-WOOK [lee.dongeun@joongang.co.kr]

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