Security fears? Smelly cash scares me more
FROM afar, their muscular build 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 when transporting large amounts of cash, said Mohamed Rafeeq, owner of Clifford Gems & Money Exchange at Raffles City shopping centre.
"I shouldn't say more than that, it gives bad people ideas," added the 49-year-old.
On Wednesday, The New Paper reported that a money changer had been robbed in Aljunied Crescent by men wearing 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 on Saturday.
The incident has shaken money changers here and serves as an overdue reminder of the risks that they go through, said Mr Rafeeq, who is also secretary of the Money Changers Association Singapore, which has more than 100 members here.
He warned: "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 revealed that his couriers have a buddy system so that they can look out for each other.
They also drive along the busiest roads after collecting the money, so that they will not be alone, never mind 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 the other after they arrive.
He has two insurance policies, too.
One policy covers incidents at the shop while the other is tailored specially for transporting money.
He declined to reveal how much they cost nor how much money his couriers usually carry.
"I'm always scared something will happen," he said.
His paranoia was 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 said with a worried expression.
When asked why money changers don't consider hiring a security escort, he explained that many cannot afford it.
"It's a fiercely competitive industry. Most are family businesses with small profit margins, so they cannot cover the cost," he said.
But the risks involved aren't what scares him and his staff the most.
"Stinky notes are the worst," he said 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 rotten that they had turned yellow.
"It smelled like s***. We wanted to vomit."
His staff directed her 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 bargain endlessly for better rates to potential money launderers attempting to exchange bags of cash.
He said he has a knack for detecting counterfeit currency.
He claims he is able to feel if a note is real 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. It's like telepathy," he said in all seriousness.
THE NEW PAPER