Macau authorities said the value of fake casino chips found in the casino at the gambling hub in the first quarter of 2021 exceeded the full Casino amount in 2020.
Macau police arrested a scammer in January for delivering high-quality counterfeits he bought online at an unnamed SJM casino. (Image: South China Morning Post)
The total face value of counterfeit chips was HK$2 million (US$257,582) as of March 31, compared with HK$1.51 million in the previous 12 months, according to the latest crime statistics report released by the Office of the Secretary for Security.
In total, about 65 counterfeit coins were found, 15 of which were high-denomination chips worth $100,000, suggesting at least an attempt at serious fraud.
The report declined to mention which casinos were affected and whether fraudsters were successful in their attempts to exchange the chips for cash.
Pandemic Biased Data
It is difficult to assess the significance of statistics derived from a period when the Macau casino industry has been so affected by the pandemic. While the enclave is experiencing an economic rebound, it has been under strict travel restrictions for most of 2020, with significantly fewer visits.
But looking at statistics from previous years, it’s clear that counterfeit chip incidents are on the rise, even as technological advancements make counterfeit chips harder to counterfeit.
Last year, 2019, which was completely unaffected by the pandemic, was the year with the highest number of fakes in three years, with about 352 pieces with a total face value of HK$18.5 million ($2.4 million).
In recent years, it has become easier to buy real counterfeit chips online, often through the dark web.
Fake chip scammer arrested
In January, Macau police reported that two scammers had managed to cash out HK$190,000 ($24,500) before the fakes were discovered at an unnamed casino in the “downtown area”.
According to police, the chips were high-quality counterfeits bearing the SJM logo. Owned by the Ho family, SJM is one of the six major licensees or franchisees in Macau, operating around 19 casinos in the city.
One of the scammers was arrested. The detained suspect, a 51-year-old male from mainland China, admitted that he and his accomplices purchased 150 counterfeit chips online for 60,000 yuan ($9,293). The face value of each chip is HK$5,000 (US$644).
Police said the suspect gambled with fake chips at several gaming tables, tried to exchange them for real ones, and went to the cage to cash out. Four honest gamblers unknowingly received fake chips from the suspect.
Modern casino chips are embedded with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) – the chips in the chips make them harder to counterfeit. The signals they emit can be read by RFID reading devices placed at gaming tables and casino cages.
Counterfeiters have been known to take RFID transmitters from small-denomination chips and embed them in larger-denomination counterfeits.
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