I posted this scam on my previous blog over a year ago. While I had a lot of guesses, no one found the answer. Let’s see if the new year has some new answers…
The con man and his victim each put five coins of varying amounts into a pile. The victim then lines the ten coins up in a row, in any order he likes. The two players each take turns taking a coin from either end of the row until they have five coins each. Whoever gets the most money, wins the kitty.
The con man picks first and ends up winning.
The con artist, keen to make more money, asks the victim if he’d like to play again. This time, to sweeten the deal, the con artist puts in six coins to the victim’s five. This time, the con artist lines up the coins and let’s the victim go first. Since the victim is going first he gets more choices and will always end up with one more coin than the con man.
This week on statewide drive with Kathy Bedford we discussed:
Casino Conjuring: The Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation spent $25,000 being Las Vegas magician Barron Stringfellow (best. name. ever.) to Australia to teach investigators how to spot a cheat.
A good investment of taxpayer money?
UPS Scam: A caller asked whether an email from UPS was really a scam (it was) and another called wondering why we get more scam emails this time of year. (the answer: we all need to cash after Christmas)
Twitter: We discussed the various frauds associated the social networking site and how to avoid getting swindled while tweeting.
Is the openness and anonymity of tweeter a breeding ground for swindlers?
“In jail the criminals, most of them, only make a dishonest living out of other people’s fortunes, while these gentlemen [debt collectors] make a so called honest living out of other people’s misfortunes. I find this more despicable.”
- Micheal Karoly aka Baron Hajdu aka Charlotte Bath
John Scarne had an encyclopedic knowledge of gaming and cheating as well as an incredible brain for figuring out odds and percentages.
His books on dice, cards, three card monte and gaming are in the libraries of all good card cheats and gambling aficionados.
Throughout his career he was often hired by casinos and betting agents to spot cheats and break down scams.
On one occasion he was hired by a bookie who had set up a closed shop book making operation in a penthouse apartment.
His regular customers would spend an afternoon locked in his horse room, plied with drinks and encouraged to bet on horse races with the results of each race would coming in through a single phone line.
The bookie was concerned because a young blonde woman had won over $100,000 in six weeks and he believed she was cheating.
He asked Scarne to figure out how this woman was able to pick the winnings in a locked room. Particularly since this was the 1950s with none of the fancy modern communications technology we could have used today.
Scarne spent the afternoon with the bookie and soon cracked the scam. See if you can figure it out too. Here are the factors:
1) The only way to communicate with people in the room was via a single phone line.
2) Only the bookie would used the phone for taking phone bets and getting results.
3) The announcement of race winners came around five minutes after the race had run. 3) People bet right up until the announcement was made.
4) No one left or entered the windowless room.
If you can figure out the answer, post it below. If you’ve heard the story before, keep mum until others have had a guess.
I had an email this morning from a TV show in the UK wanting some history on the Melon Drop. The Melon Drop is a classic scam perpetrated against Japanese tourists.
The tourist is tricked into accidentally breaking a melon which they are forced to pay for. Since Melons are often quite expensive in Japan, the victim pays over-inflated prices for the cheap fruit.
‘The Melon Drop’ has become short hand for any similar scam. Here is my reply:
You’ve asked a bit of a loaded question there!
The idea of tricking a victim into ‘accidentally’ breaking an item is as old as time. It was particularly popular in the middle ages.
However, ‘The Melon Drop’ involving Japanese tourists and expensive fruit is far more popular as a story than it is as an actual real-world scam.
Most of the reports are anecdotal rather than from verifiable sources. I can tell you the following…
It most likely started in San Francisco in the early 1970s. After the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, Japan lifted the country’s strict post-war travel restrictions, allowing Japanese citizens to travel abroad far more easily. The Japanese have had a long history of ‘travel for pleasure’, stemming back to the seventh century, and huge numbers of middle- and upper-class Japanese were eager to travel for the first time.
A large number travelled to San Francisco, which has always attracted Southeast Asian people going back to the gold rush in the 1800’s. The modern Fortune Cookie comes from San Francisco, and the city is one of the few in the US to have a “Japantown”.
Most of my resources suggest that it was here that the scam first involving melons and Japanese tourists occurred.