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PSA: Jamaican Switch

PSA: Jamaican Switch
 Public Service Announcement

by Inspector Earl Wismer
Fraud Detail
850 Bryant St. Rm 421
San Francisco, CA. 94103

Jamaican Switch Explained

The scam known as the “Jamaican Switch”, “South African Switch” or “Handkerchief Switch” was first seen on the southern coast of the United States over one hundred years ago.  This scam is very successful in that the perpetrators can make thousands of dollars in a short time with only a few hours of training and preparation.

Currently, most of our victims in the San Francisco Bay Area are reporting very similar incidents.  Generally,  the victim is approached on the street,  in front of their home,  while walking in the area of a shopping center,  or after leaving a bank,  by a black person claiming to be from South Africa.  This person affects an accent that the victim assumes to be South African.  (This assumption is based on statements made by the “South African”.)

The “South African” asks the victim for help in locating an address, usually “Pea Green” or “Peabody” Street, where lodging has been promised.  There is also a claim of having paid a $100.00 fare for a ride from the airport, only to be abandon by the cab driver and lost in a strange city in a strange country.  Our victim is asked for assistance and feels compelled to right the wrong done to this seemingly innocent victim of a greedy cab driver.  The “South African” gives the victim his/her name as “Jamal Abdulla”, “Jamalla Abdul”, Abdulla Jamal”, or some other variation of that name.

It is at this point, or soon there after, depending on the circumstances and location, that a passerby, “Suspect #2", is drawn into the conversation by “Jamal” or at his/her suggestion.  (“Maybe this person can help”).

“Jamal”, “Suspect #2" and our victim continue to talk.  “Jamal’s” story usually is that he /she is in the United States to collect a large cash settlement for an insurance claim due to the death of a relative, usually an uncle, who died in an airplane crash.  The settlement, for $150,000.00 cash, is documented by a letter shown to “Suspect #2" and the victim by “Jamal”.  This is a copy of a letter with a letterhead of a large insurance company.  (“John Hancock” is typical).  The letter is addressed to “Jamal Abdulla” in South Africa, and confirms the settlement and requests a response to the United States to receive the cash.  “Jamal” then displays one or two very large wads of what appears to be U.S. currency to our victim and “Suspect #2",  (This is usually play money or cut newspaper with real currency on the outside of the roll), stating that he has already received the money.

“Suspect #2" and/or the victim become very concerned for the safety of the trio when that much money is shown on the street and a suggestion is made that they all get off the street and sit in the victim’s or “Suspect#2's” vehicle, which is parked nearby.  “Jamal” always sits in the back seat with the victim or “Suspect #2" driving.


While riding in the vehicle toward a location where “Jamal” might receive the help he/she needs, the discussion continues with “Jamal” relating that he/she can not take the cash back to South Africa because the racist government will confiscate the money claiming that “Jamal” will use the money to buy guns for the opposition.  “Jamal” will then show another letter addressed to him/her which instructs him/her to distribute the money to the poor,  needy and homeless in the United States prior to returning to South Africa.  This letter is signed by a high ranking official in the South African Baptist Church.  (Many times the signer is “Bishop Tutu”).

“Jamal” now asks “Suspect #2" and the victim to help him distribute this money and offers $5,000.00 to $10,000.00 to each for their assistance.  But first “Jamal” needs proof that they are trustworthy people and will not just take the money for themselves.  The only way that “Suspect #2" and the victim can show their trustworthiness is to show “Jamal” that they have access to large amounts of cash and therefore would not need to steal “Jamal’s” money.

“Suspect #2" agrees to show a large amount of cash that he/she has available from his/her bank, home or business. The three drive to a location where “Suspect #2" leaves “Jamal” and the victim in the car while he/she goes around the corner, out of sight, to get his/her money.  “Jamal”, alone with the victim, may offer more money to the victim for his/her assistance because the victim is “Jamal’s” “number one friend”.  “Suspect #2" returns with an envelope containing what he/she says is several thousand dollars and gives the envelope to “Jamal”. The victim is able to see only that the outside bill is real and the edges of the stack of bills appear to be genuine. (This is usually play money, colored paper or cut news paper, but in some cases is genuine currency).  “Jamal” combines “Suspect #2's” money with half of his/her money and wraps it all in a bandana, tying it into a neat bundle.  “Jamal”, who is very religious, asks both “Suspect #2" and the victim to place their hands on the bundle while they pray that the money will help those  whom it is donated.  “Suspect #2" then takes his bundle back  where he/she obtained his/her money and upon his/her return  the car tells the victim that he/she counted more money than what was promised and will sometimes claim that there were one thousand dollar bills in the bundle.  (“Jamal” claims that this was a test of “Suspect #2's” trustworthiness and honesty).

The victim is now asked  show his/her “good faith” money.  If the victim has  go  a bank, “Jamal” will wait in the car.  “Suspect #2" in very rare cases will go into the bank with the victim, but more often will wait in the car with “Jamal”.  (“Jamal” and “Suspect #2" will actually separate and wait away from the vehicle while watching the bank. If anything goes awry, they will then leave the area in opposite directions).

If the victim goes  his/her home  get the money, “Jamal” and “Suspect #2" will enter the home also.  While “Jamal” and the victim discuss the money, “Suspect #2" will ask  use the bathroom and “case” the house.  (A theft of whatever valuable property seen may take place or information about contents of the house gathered for a later burglary).

When the victim returns with his/her money, “Jamal” again wraps his/her money and the victim’s money in a bandana, tying it into a neat bundle.  Hands are laid on, pad prayers said over the bundle by all three.

At this point there is some distraction, either conversation with “Suspect #2" or something convenient which gives “Jamal” time  switch the bundle containing the victim’s money with a previously prepared identical bundle.  The second bundle is then given  the victim, who is told  put it in a safe place (trunk or glove compartment of the victim’s car, a pocket or purse or a safe place within the house).

Now, “Jamal” needs  get  the airport and is offered a ride by “Suspect #2".  The victim is dropped off, or left at home, as “Jamal” and “Suspect #2" leave the area, taking the victim’s money with them.


The victim will usually wait, as instructed, until safe at home before opening the bundle only  find cut newspaper instead of cash.  “Jamal” and “Suspect #2" are long gone.

There is usually a third or fourth suspect in getaway vehicle following “Jamal” and “Suspect #2".  If anything does go wrong with the scam, “Jamal” and “Suspect #2" can run in opposite directions and still get picked up by their accomplice.

Victims have been men and women of all ages, racial background and economic status who have various degrees of the three G’s, Goodliness, Gullibility and Greed.  The victim truly wants  do a good deed by distributing this large amount of money  people who are in need and is willing  believe “Jamal’s” story.  There is also the incentive of receiving money for his/her own use.

When investigating these cases, always remember that this scheme will seldom work without “Suspect #2", and the getaway vehicle will be within sight at all times.  Remember that there have been several cases where both “Jamalla” and “Suspect #2" are female. Both may have cloned cellular telephones with which they communicate with the getaway car.  Preserve all evidence for fingerprints and book as appropriate.  If you need help or advice, call the Fraud Detail or Operations Center.  A detailed report is required for a prosecution.  The victim will view a “mug” book containing over 150 photographs, so be sure 11 get a precise description for the report so that any identification will be corroborated.  Good Luck!!

Last updated: 9/14/2009 11:33:52 AM