Nail polish remover, like Gaffa Tape, WB 40 and the first smile of a newborn unicorn, is magic.
The principle ingredient, acetone, will clean fine china, eradicate scratches from watch faces and remove leeches from your skin.
It is also the key to half dozen classic scams, the must have tool for any aspiring swindler.
1. Marking playing cards
There are hundreds of ways to mark a deck of cards from intricate line work with an ultra fine marker to high-tech luminous readers that can only be detected with a special set of glasses. All of these methods have the same goal, to let the cheat know the identity of a face down cards
Using diluted nail polish and a cue-tip, it is possible to lightly fade small sections of the back of a playing card, creating almost invisible marks.
Would be cheats need to be careful to let the marked cards air before adding them back to the deck lest the smell give them away.
2. Forging cheques
A favourite of infamous paperhanger Frank Abagnale Jr, washing cheques is easy with a little nail polish remover.
Steal a cheque (kids ask your parents about cheques), cover the signature with a piece of cellotape and then soak the rest of the cheque in nail polish remover. The acetone dissolves the biro ink but leaves the cheque and the taped up signature unharmed.
From there, it’s a just a simply case of rinsing the cheque, removing the tape, letting it dry and adding whatever name and dollar amount you want.
3. Hacking RFID cards
From credit cards to myki, most plastic cards contain some form of RFID technology in them. The small chip can be accessed by tapping it against a reader.
By soaking an RFID identification card in nail polish remover, the chip can easily be removed after a short time. The plastic melts, the card splits and the electronics inside are revealed.
From there, the possibilities are endless. A con artist could rig a pigeon race (fanciers track their birds by a plastic disk on the pigeon’s leg), swap electronic bar codes in shops or even steal self-service hire cars from companies like Zipcar that use the technology for customers to get in and out of their vehicles.
4. Switching barcodes
As well as removing RFID barcodes, a quick squirt of nail polish remover will remove even the toughest traditional sticker barcode.
In 2008, an Adelaide man was arrested for switching the barcodes on expensive coffee machines so they would scan as lower priced machines.
Police found stacks of barcodes, $25,000 in cash and, you guessed it, a bottle of nail polish remover when they searched his caravan.
5. Jury rigging ATMs
There are dozens of ways to scam ATMs, tracing back to the early days of the machines. However, perhaps the simplest way for scammers to get cash from ATMS is with a little super glue and nail polish remover.
By gluing the money slot closed, the swindler can prevent the machine from ejecting cash and any withdrawals build up, trapped behind the fastened door.
After a few minutes of watching the public try and use the gaffed machine, the con man applies a little nail polish remover, dissolves the glue and retrieves the cash.
6. Selling ‘black money’
Ever wanted to know what happens if you answer one of those suspect emails from Nigeria promising you millions? The answer is: black money.
The con artists tell you that they will send you the cash in the form ‘black money’, regular currency that has been treated with a special polymer to make it black. That way, the money can be safely shipped in the knowledge that no thief will ever be able to spend the money.
You can only remove the black ink if you know the correct mix of chemicals. The chemicals cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, which you have to pony up if you want to get your hands on the millions.
In reality, there is no such thing as black money and the ‘special polymer’ is just black ink. The correct mix of chemicals is…you guessed it, nail polish remover.
They demonstrate the process with a couple of real notes and then offload hundreds of scraps of paper and a few bottles of remover in exchange for your very real cash.
7. Finding fake…pretty much anything.
As well as being used to commit fraud, nail polish remover can also be used to fight it.
A little acetone is the perfect way to test whether the expensive amber you purchased is actually cheap plastic, to find out if the electronic parts you bought online are counterfeit (the printing on fake electronics comes of when tested with acetone) or even to test how old an oil painting is. An old painting’s oil will have set and won’t be affected by a spot of nail polish remover. A new fake, on the other hand, will melt under the remover’s mighty touch.
But that doesn’t make up for nail polish remover’s biggest crime:- stinking up suburban shopping centres thanks to cut price nail salons.