Security fears? Smelly cash scares me more

From afar, their muscular builds suggests that they are not to be trifled with.

But peel away their clothes and instead of muscles, you'll find wads of cash carefully placed to prevent any unnatural bulges.

It's one of the methods that money changers use while transporting large amounts of cash, says Mr Mohamed Rafeeq, the owner of Clifford Gems & Money Exchange at Raffles City shopping centre.

"I shouldn't say more than that, it gives bad people ideas," adds the 49-year-old.

On Wednesday, The New Paper reported that a money changer had been robbed at Aljunied Crescent by men in ski masks. A total of $600,000 was taken in the five-minute job.

Police arrested a male suspect on Friday. He was charged in court yesterday.

The incident has shaken money changers here and serves as an overdue reminder of the risks that they go through, says Mr Rafeeq, who is also the secretary of the Money Changers Association Singapore, which has more than 100 members here.

He warns: "We need to be vigilant. We've become complacent because most money changers think that Singapore is safe and secure. "Now everyone must open his eyes properly."

Besides hiding the cash, Mr Rafeeq reveals that his couriers have a buddy system so that they can look after each other.

They also drive on the busiest roads after collecting the money, just so that they will not be alone. Never mind about traffic jams.

Back at the shop, Mr Rafeeq waits nervously for them to return.

Each time, he receives two phone calls - one when his couriers leave the collection point at the bank, and another when they start walking back after they arrive.

He has two separate insurance policies, too.

One policy covers incidents at the shop while the other is specially tailored for transporting money.

He declined to reveal how much they cost nor would he say how much money his couriers usually carry.

"I'm always scared something will happen," he says.

His paranoia is palpable during the hour-long interview at a Burger King outlet on Friday. Midway through the interview, we moved tables because someone suddenly sat close to us.

"We can't sit here, he's too near," he says with a worried expression.

When asked why money changers don't consider hiring a security escort, he explains that many of them cannot afford it.

"It's a fiercely competitive industry. Most are family businesses with small profit margins, so they cannot cover the cost," he says.

But the risks involved aren't what scares him and his staff the most.

"Stinky notes are the worst," he says with a laugh.

Once, an elderly customer went to his shop and asked to exchange a stack of American currency.

He recalls: "It must have been kept for around 15 years, because the notes were so old and rotted that they had turned yellow.

"It smelled like s***. We wanted to vomit."

His staff directed her to go to the bank, but she returned the next day, saying that the bank did not accept the notes and had redirected her to money changers.

Mr Rafeeq relented and accepted the notes, but at a much lower rate.

"We smiled at her and as soon as she left, we rushed to scrub our hands with soap."

He has seen it all, from cheapskate customers who endlessly bargain for better rates to potential money launderers attempting to exchange bags of cash.

He says he has a special skill to detect counterfeit currency.

He claims he is able to feel if a note is real or not just by "communicating" with it, something his father trained him to do from the age of 12.

"When I touch it, my heart will tell me if there's something wrong with it or not. It's like telepathy," he says in all seriousness.

"When I touch (a note), my heart will tell me if there's something wrong with it or not. It's like telepathy"

- Mr Mohamed Rafeeq says he is able to feel if a bank note is genuine or not

Secrets of the trade

1) Employ only people you can trust. New recruits should start by running basic errands and handle currency only after they have proven themselves.

2) To protect yourself from disputes, install multiple closed-circuit television cameras to record everything. Never count cash out of the customer's sight.

3) Keep a hand sanitiser nearby as you never know who handled the money before you or where it came from.

This article was first published on Nov 09, 2014.
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