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In December of 1999, finishing.com received a strange inquiry from Malaysia, which was printed as Letter 4099. Just as strange as the story it presented was the fact that it was submitted to us three times, by three different "DHL employees". But the routing of the letter proved that it really did come from DHL as claimed.
At the time, and again & again over the months, we tried to find out what the SSD solution, Vectrol Paste, and Tebi-Matonic referenced in that letter were. We could find nothing no matter how hard we looked.
But the letter continued to draw responses, with many people claiming they could offer these chemicals or substitutes like OGL. Again, efforts to look up the substitute chemicals they mentioned were just as fruitless. Meanwhile we continued to receive additional urgent requests for the chemicals from others. Such inquiries have continued relentlessly and include two requests for Vectrol Paste this month alone.
We tried to contact every responder. Those who were offering to sell the chemicals always declined to answer our followup inquiries. Those who were looking for the chemicals always responded in non-forthcoming fashion. At one point, we became so concerned that this topic might involve counterfeiting that we wrote to the Treasury Department.
Finally, though, by assembling all of these non-forthcoming responses from a dozen inquirers, we were able to piece together enough search terms to make progress. A search term which our readers can now use to read all about it is "black money scam".
Photo from Federal Reserve Bank of New York website
The scam goes like this: Someone claims that they can offer a large stash of U.S. currency (or other valuable bills) which has been "protected" against theft during shipment by being coated with a black substance which is only removeable with an exotic and expensive mix of secret chemicals named SSD Solution, Vectrol Paste, etc. The scammer sells the victim a stack of black covered paper the size of real bills, and using the old "shell game trick", the scammer convinces the victim that he has chosen a typical bill from the stack, and "demonstrates" the removal of the black covering from a real U.S. Treasury Note. When the victim later cannot turn his stack of black paper into treasury bills he is told it is because the chemicals have a short shelf life and they have "spoiled". So the scammee searches desperately here and everywhere for the needed replacement solutions.
We don't feel too sorry for the scammees, since most were happy when they thought they were themselves scamming a government. They got what they deserved. But there may be a few people out there who actually thought they were serving a charitable purpose; these few will be glad to hear that many of the scammers have been arrested in Malaysia, Japan and Singapore, and more arrests are pending.
Some updates: Here is a report from the Straights Times, forwarded by reader Cheah Sin Kooi:
PETALING JAYA - Criminals who used to be involved in black-money scams have gone hi-tech and are now using e-mail to cheat their victims, police have discovered.
Black money is a phrase coined to describe the activities of Africans who cheat people by selling them a chemical which they say will turn pieces of black paper into US$1 (S$1.70) notes.
Their latest tactic was discovered when the owner of an engineering company here received an e-mail. It was from a woman claiming to be the wife of former Nigerian Head of State Sani Abaca, reported Berita Harian Malaysia.
Her e-mail said she had deposited RM152 million (S$71.2 million) in Madrid, Spain and was afraid it would be seized by the Nigerian government. She appealed to the businessman to take possession of the money in order to prevent its being seized.
The businessman was attracted by the offer but he became suspicious when he was asked to pay US$4,000 (S$7,100) as a processing fee.
He contacted the police. They told him to arrange for the transaction to take place so they could ambush the culprits.
On Wednesday night, officers waited at a hotel and arrested a Nigerian who approached the businessman. He led them to a hotel room where two other men, believed to be Zimbabwean, were also arrested and money-processing devices seized.
Also found were bundles of plain yellow paper; bundles of fake US$1 notes, instructions on how to wash the money and other documents.
A police spokesman said later they had received many complaints of similar scams.
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P.S.: We've also received a number of cryptic letters about "rice pulling" coins, and plates that "turn rice black", and "valuable" iridium copper. So far, we have not been able to find any articles about scams involving these topics, but we once again strongly suspect a scam. We warn people that when the scientific community has nothing to say about a topic that you find compelling, it's usually because no such phenomena exists and you are being tricked.
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