Money comes in all shapes and sizes, all denominations, and some of it is worth more than others. This is an undeniable truth. It can be serious money or fun money, pin money or pocket money. It can be big money.
It can also be Monopoly money, as a number of – probably rather embarrassed and definitely angry – jewellers have recently discovered.
A gang of conmen successfully (up until they were caught, anyway) persuaded a variety of jewellery dealers to part with over £7 million worth of jewels after paying them with Monopoly money. One swindle alone cost jeweller John Calleija (who has a shop on Old Bond Street in London, and who sells his wares to film stars and royalty) £6.1 million.
It sounds far-fetched, but it really did happen.
Sometimes the conmen would sandwich the toy money between real euro notes (a loss they were prepared to make since they were getting a good return on their investment in the end). Other times it was as simple as covering up the word ‘Monopoly’ with an elastic band.
The criminals established a bond, and therefore a connection, with the jewellers. They worked hard to be trusted. And it was that trust that meant the money was barely even looked at as it changed hands. A sense of etiquette and correctness stood in the way of immediately discovering that something major was very, very wrong.
The scam worked by one gang member going to inspect the precious stones at a pre-arranged meeting place. A ‘bodyguard’ (actually another gang member) would use a money counting machine to count out the money in genuine notes. In a moment of distraction, the real money would be swapped for the Monopoly money, and the scam was done. The fraudsters could walk away with millions of pounds worth of gems, and the hapless victim would be left to count his fake money.