There’s a new scam on the rise in Phillipine’s airports. It’s an extortion racket that sees victims threatened with jail time if they don’t cough up the princely sum of 500 pesos ($15). The Sydney Morning Herald reports of a wheelchair bound US woman, Rhed De Guzman, passing through Manilla airport security only to be told by the security staff that a single .22 caliber bullet had been found in her luggage.
Security staff furiously told her she was headed for jail, confiscating her travel documents. Only then did a friendlier staff member appear to inform this could all go away if she would just pay a small fine on the sly.
Even though the two staff responsible have been fired since De Guzman was scammed back in September, the scam has spread.
So what makes a scam like this so successful?
“I was just following orders”
Firstly, the guards are in a position of authority. Humans are wired to follow orders from those we perceive as being in a position of authority. It is the reason why con artists so readily impersonate police officers, airline pilots, doctors and lawyers. In Stanley Milgrim’s famous experiment, he convinced ordinary people to apparently electrocute innocent victims on the orders of researchers.
Far away from home
Also, the victims are all travellers, away from home and their comfort zone. Tourists are easy pickings for con artists who rely on the fact that their victim’s are so dazzled by this new place that they’ll do whatever they’re told. If you don’t think it’s true, look at all the crap you purchased on your last oversea’s trip.
The Lesser Of Two Evils
The con artists also utilise the principle of Lesser Of Two Evils, presenting the victim’s with two options: One, go to jail. Two, pay fifteen dollars. And if you think they’re bluffing, spare a thought for Lane White, a missionary who spent six days in prison for refusing to pay the cash. It’s an easy choice to make.
In an era where Schapelle Corby was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a bag full of weed she claimed she knew nothing about, where every airport is filled with post 9/11 security guards threatening full body cavity searches for 5ml too much of body lotion, it isn’t surprising this scam works so well.
Or perhaps the bullet swindle is a part of a larger scam. After all, since the rise of what the media are The Great Bullet Scam, luggage plastic wrapping services in Manilla airports have been doing a roaring trade.
Nicholas J. Johnson is a Melbourne magician, author, entertainer and collector of scams.