The black money, or wash wash scam is fairly active across Kenya especially in the three main cities, Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. Despite frequent media reports of victims and warnings from national police, new victims continue to fall prey to the scam.
Find out how 'wash wash' works
For those not familiar with wash wash, it goes something like this:
The fraudster meets with his/ her victim, often introduced by an unwitting friend of the victim. Some of the fraudsters form a romantic relationship with the intended victim, while others attempt to build a friendship.
Sooner rather than later the matter of him/her having a friend who has just arrived in the country with a large amount of money that has been disguised by black ink to avoid customs detection is raised.
Playing on the greed of the intended victim the amount of money that the fraudster’s new ‘friend’ has is anywhere up to millions, and all that is needed are some chemicals to clean the money.
Unfortunately the new ‘friend’ hasn’t got the money needed to clean the black money so he or she is looking for a partner to cover the cost of the chemicals in exchange for a certain percentage of the money.
To dispel any disbelief the intended victim is taken to see how easy the cleaning process is, and is generally given one of the cleaned notes to take away and get verified as being authentic.
Good fraudsters come up with a variety of reasons to get the victim to pay increasing amounts for the magic chemicals necessary, including that the solution was spoiled by heat or cold, is out of date, or was seized by customs.
Once the fraudsters have milked as much money out of the victim as they can they then vanish, leaving.
According to the police most victims don’t report the crime, not wanting to admit their naivety, or that they had agreed to participate in cleaning black money obtained due to criminal activity such as drug smuggling, tax evasion, or theft.
A few genuine Kenya Shillings notes are first coated with a thin solution of polyvinyl acetate (PVA) glue, marked under a number of names including wood glue, white glue, carpenter’s glue, school glue, or simply PVA glue. Once the glue has dried the bills are then coated with tincture of iodine.
The ‘cleaning solutions’ and chemicals necessary to wash the black money can be anything the fraudsters think up, with cases in the past seeing flavoured cordial, ground up aspirin dissolved in water, or even talcum powder being used.
COVID-19 has increased scams
Investment scams in Kenya have now become common and this might have something to do with the rate of unemployment.
Pre-pandemic data from Kenya's National Bureau of Statistics shows that 40% of Kenyan youth lacked jobs in February 2020 and, with the pandemic in its third wave, the employment situation is now even worse, though the latest data has not yet been released.
The scams come in all shapes and sizes - from lucrative land deals, once-in-a-lifetime farming investments, off-plan housing bonanzas, online forex trading schemes and even, puzzlingly, cryptocurrency mining schemes.
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