The Jamaican Handkerchief Scam

The Handkerchief switch, or Jamaican switch as it is often known, is a scam which has been around for a hundred years or more.

The ‘Handkerchief switch’ is a confidence game, similar in many ways to the pigeon drop scam.


Whilst the specific details may vary, the basic premise of the con is always the same.

The scam requires at least two people working together in order to function.

The first con artist is ‘the catch’ and will typically appear to be a foreigner, often from a third world country.

The accomplice is called ‘the cap’ and will try to convince the victim that they are a random bystander who doesn’t know either them or the ‘the catch’.

Sometimes others will be involved, posing as members of a crowd.

Their role will be to act as lookouts.


The victim will be approached on the street by ‘the catch’ who will pose as a foreigner who claims to have a large amount of money.

He will spin a story, saying something like he received this money from an insurance company or a rich relative died, etc.

The apparent foreigner will ask the victim about their current location, saying that a taxi had just dropped him off there after charging him an extortionate amount of money.

The victim will have no idea about the location, as the place that the foreigner is looking for doesn’t actually exist.

In fact, the ‘catch’ is simply attempting to engage the victim in further conversation.

‘The catch’ will often use a foreign accent or broken English in order to appear like an outsider and to pull their victim into their story.

They will try and make their victim feel sorry for them due to the high cab fee they have been duped into paying and the fact that they have been deposited in the wrong place.

‘The catch’ will seem to be unconcerned by the dangers of carrying a large amount of money, so much so that they may even start showing it off in public.

This is an attempt to get the potential victim to feel concerned about the safety of the cash.


If ‘the catch’ senses that you are likely to be duped by this scam then he will manage to secretly alert his accomplice, ‘the cap’, who will appear to be a passer-by who has just stumbled into the conversation.

After hearing all that has transpired, he will warn of the dangers of showing off so much money in public, thereby reinforcing the point to the victim.

‘The catch’ will explain how he cannot return to his native country with so much money, often due to political reasons.

He will then begin to think out loud, wondering if it would be better to perhaps donate the money to some sort of religious or charitable organisation.

Being a stranger, he needs a helping hand and will offer a share to ‘the cap’ and the victim if they help him give his money away.


‘The catch’ has a mistrust of banks and so he offers to let the victim deposit the money into his account instead, for safekeeping until it is given to charity.

As the victim and the other two participants are supposedly all strangers, it is suggested that the victim and ‘the cap’ should each withdraw a similar amount of money and place it into the bag that ‘the catch’ has, as a sign of goodwill.


Once the victim has their own money, and has placed it into the bag with the rest, ‘the catch’ will ask everyone to pray, typically for whatever cause he had previously said he would donate the funds to.

At this point there will be some sort of distraction, either through a conversation with ‘the cap’, or some other prearranged situation.

This will give ‘the catch’ enough time to swap the bag containing the real money with an identical bag of the same weight which will probably just contain worthless paper.

‘The catch’ will then receive an important phone call and will need to depart rapidly.

‘The cap’ will conveniently have a car nearby and will offer him a lift.

As they say they now trust the victim, ‘the catch’ will give them the bag for safekeeping until they return shortly.

As you may have gathered by now, they never do return.


This scheme still works to this day and hinges upon the intervention of ‘the cap’ who adds validity to the story spun by ‘the catch’.

All those involved in the con will know each other well and will have perfected suitably discreet methods of communication between themselves in order to stay out of trouble and to make their getaway at the right time.

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.

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