Different day, same parking lot. An older woman approaches. Speaking in a thick accent, she seems upset. She tells you that she recently arrived from South Africa to visit a nephew, but has been robbed and is scared and disoriented. You tell her to go the police, but she refuses. Long story short, could she leave her remaining money with you for safekeeping? She is expecting to meet her nephew at a nearby landmark. If you keep her money, she’ll contact you later and arrange to pick it up. She’ll even give you a little reward for your help. You agree.
The woman opens up her bag and pulls out a wad of cash wrapped in a rubber band. She insists that the money would be safer if it’s kept together with your money. You take out your wallet and hand over your cash. The woman takes out a big handkerchief, wraps up your wallet with her big wad, and hands it back. You give the woman your phone number and she says she’ll call soon. You go your separate ways.
It’s not until you’re at home waiting for the call that you realize your wallet’s gone and the big pile of cash is really a stack of newspaper cuttings with two fake bills on either end.
Welcome to the handkerchief switch, also known as the Jamaican switch or the South African switch. This is a relatively simple version of the con, which can be elaborate and involve an accomplice. The basic premise is that each person hands over some money, which is put in a hanky or envelope for safekeeping. Then a little sleight of hand ensues and the real money goes in their pockets while you are left with the fake bills. The back story will vary in complexity, but usually includes a newcomer to this country who has a large sum of cash that needs to be protected in some way.