"Immediately, the victim of the transaction
is horror-stricken to see what he imagines
to be his note begin to smoke, curl up,
and go on fire."
This scam preys on those who "trust in their priests so implicitly that they will believe in their power to perform the most marvellous feats…" It’s from a book written in 1896 concerning criminal cases in Bombay, India.
The method of cheating by notography, as it is known, is this. Supposing a dupe is found, he is taken to a man dressed up as a fakir who, it is explained to him, possesses the extraordinary power of converting one currency note into two, but that he will only do it for a person in need of money, or for any one whose fortunes have fallen, and who, for the sake of helping a charity, or for any other urgent necessity, requires a large sum of money.
The fakir is generally somewhat doubtful at first about beginning, but apparent difficulties or prejudices being surmounted, a note is handed to the fakir, who straightway commences operations on it.
He takes his dupe into a darkened room, and making a solution of nitrate of silver, wets a piece of sensitised paper such as is used by photographer in it. This being dried again, it and the note are folded together and put into a case similar to that used in a photographic camera for holding the plates, and placed in the sun for a few minutes.
The fakir then opens the case again, and shows the man that the paper which went in blank has now a faint impress of the note upon it. Any fear the dupe may have had for his note now generally disappears, and he grows still more interested and expectant when the fakir says the note has yet to be subjected to some further process.
By a simple sleight-of-hand movement he substitutes a genuine note for the sensitised paper, and when the frame is opened once more after a further exposure to the sun the swindled party is delighted when he is presented with a brand new note in addition to his own. He is then told any other time he requires money to bring his note to the fakir.
He goes out, changes it, finds it is all right, and is satisfied as to the genuineness of the priest’s strange art. He of course very soon returns with a note for a larger sum, probably one representing as much money as he is possessed of; and now it is that the poor dupe is thoroughly victimised.
The same process is gone through as before, but on the photographer’s frame being opened the first time to discover how the printing is progressing, the genuine note is discovered to be all spotted in a peculiar fashion, which the fakir accounts for through the sensitised paper not having been dried in the dark. That, however, he professes to be able to remove.
He then secretly substitutes another piece of paper for the genuine note, dips it in a strong acid solution, and puts it in the sun to dry. Immediately, the victim of the transaction is horror-stricken to see what he imagines to be his note begin to smoke, curl up, and go on fire. In a second the paper is reduced to a black ash.
The fakir and his confederates express great concern at the failure of the attempt, but ask him to bring another note, when they will be careful to make it good to him.
The movements of the cheated one are carefully watched. If he goes to the police the swindlers decamp, and find other quarters; so that when any inquiries are made for them they are nowhere to be found.
From the chapter "The Duplicate Currency Note Scam" in the book "A Biographical Sketch of Sardar Mir Abdul Ali, Khan Bahadur, Head of The Detective Police, Bombay. With An Account of Interesting Criminal Gases. (1896) by Navaroji Manekji Dumasia.
– Indian Rupee image is from Numismodo>>