Bad Maths, Slight of Hand, and Change Checking

READ this and save yourself some money. Scams exist in every country, always have; always will, but last week I came across one in Benidorm that amazed me.

Magicians know it as a retention pass, and according to the friend I was with at the time, who by chance happens to be a professional magician, it is a classic, and can be traced back to the very beginnings of magic, in the form of a slight of hand designed to deprive the victim of his money.

Once you are aware of it you shouldn’t be fooled, but to the unwitting it is a genius way to cheat a person.

This is what happened. My friend Steve went to pay a bill. He paid with a twenty. The bill was nine something, he said “give me nine”, so making the payment eleven, and leaving a nice tip to what had been a friendly waitress.

This waitress a.k.a., the thief, returned with her palm open, showing a five note and four coins. She gestured to place it in my friend’s hand; and so she flipped her hand over leaving the money in his palm. All very nice until Steve looked into his hand and saw three euro coins where before he had seen four. The woman had performed a classic slight of hand, keeping the fourth coin by squeezing it in the fold of her thumb: a retention pass, beloved of street tricksters since the days of Babylon.

Steve was incredulous that the woman had dared to do it. He looked over to her and she looked away: guilty as Hell. The thing is this.

The café was full of British pensioners on their holidays.

Steve pointed out if the woman dared do it to him; a young man who happened to be a professional magician, then she would be doing it day in day out to every unsuspecting customer as automatically as she breathed.

The only limiting criteria would be the need for a minimum number of coins, say three, in the change so that people wouldn’t initially notice that they were one coin shy. After all, who rechecks their change when they’ve already been shown it in an open palm, and had it placed in friendly fashion into their own hand by a smiling waiter/ress? I wouldn’t; until now.

So next time you are given your change and shown it. Recheck it in your own open palm straight away. Why be a victim?

There are two particular places where unfortunately I have been given the wrong change on three consecutive occasions, and each time it was short: never too much. What a bit of bad luck. I am not saying these places habitually try to steal from their customers, but I would say that it’s an especially good idea to be vigilant.

One is the service station at Villajoyosa.

Each time at least a €10 note short, and each time when I pointed it out I was handed the missing note without a blink from the attendant. I’m not accusing anyone of theft, but their maths is atrocious.

The other place where maths is consistently lacking is the Prensa in Carrefour at Finestrat. The lady who runs it really should buy a calculator, as on three consecutive occasions she gave me a euro short in my change. My mother went there once, and oddly enough it happened to her. I spoke to Steve, and as luck would have it the lady has messed up his change on every occasion where a coin is involved.

My mum never went back. I’m not saying the woman is a thief, just that she really should take more care with her change.

Consider if a thief does the retention pass, or just gives short change, on a habitual basis. A euro here, a euro there? How many euros in a day? I’d wager it’s a tidy sum for the thief, and risk free as the only thing if caught is to give an apology. “Oops sorry” – or if bare faced not even bother – and just move on to the next victim (customer).

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