Spanish Authorities Arrest 5 Suspected of Fake Banknote Scheme

Published: 25 January 2024

Wash-Wash Scam SpainScammers trick victims by providing them with numerous paper pieces resembling banknotes. The fraudster claims that purchasing a special solvent from them will remove the dye on the paper, transforming it into genuine currency. (Photo: Ministerio del interior, License)

By Erika Di Benedetto

Spanish authorities have apprehended five individuals involved in a so-called "wash wash scam" where they sold pieces of blank paper shaped like banknotes and convinced victims that washing them with special chemicals would transform them into real money.

In this type of scam, also known as the "black money scam," perpetrators claim to possess cash that has been blackened or dyed to evade customs controls, using excuses such as that the money originates from a war-torn country or a heist.

The arrested individuals, two in Barcelona and three in Madrid, were selling the blank paper, either online or in person, with the promise that it could be converted back into money.

The investigation began in August 2023 when Spanish law enforcement started monitoring social media and the darknet. They discovered a German-origin website selling counterfeit banknotes, with sellers offering the cash even in person, which is atypical in the counterfeit money market, according to the Spanish ministry.

Additionally, the website provided various contact options through different instant messaging applications.

Spanish police confirmed the involvement of these individuals in several cases of fraud, some operating with amounts exceeding 500,000 euros (US$544,520).

During a vehicle search, authorities seized counterfeit banknotes, along with 1,550 euros ($1,687) in genuine currency, chemical products, seven cardboard pieces, and 12 sheets of paper resembling the size and shape of a 50-euro banknote. The findings also included colored paper, forged identity documents, and a box wrapped in aluminum foil containing an electric cable, as well as two authentic 50-euro banknotes stained and coated in talcum powder.

In November 2023, law enforcement discovered another case where individuals defrauded a victim using a similar method. In this instance, the scammers gave the victim 1,300 euros (US$ 1,415) in cardboard paper and promised a total of 60,000 euros (US$ 65,335) if the victim purchased liquids to cleanse the cardboard, claiming it would turn into real money through a chemical process.

To gain the victim's trust, the scammers demonstrated how the cards could be transformed into genuine banknotes using these products.

Judicial authorities in Spain have ordered the temporary imprisonment of all five suspects.