Page last updated at 10:58 GMT, Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Magician teaches 'rip-off' tricks

Emmanuele Faja
Mr Faja became interested in tricks after meeting magicians as a child

A teenage magician has been recruited by a council in London to educate shoppers about the risks of being ripped off by "street gamblers".

Waltham Forest Council has already issued anti-social behaviour orders (asbos) to hustlers offering bets on card games which are actually scams.

Emmanuele Faja, 17, was due to be in Walthamstow later to demonstrate the techniques used by the tricksters.

He was enlisted after a police officer saw him performing magic in a pub.

The officer was sufficiently impressed by his skills to contact the council, which asked him to try to stop people falling for the scams in the run-up to Christmas.

Confidence-building

The tricks involve games such as "Chase the Lady", where people try to guess which playing card is which.

Another sees a ball placed under a cup, which is swapped around with a number of other cups. People are asked to say where the ball has ended up.

Playing cards
It's not a fair game. It's a con. They are criminals and there's no way you can make money on it
Emanuele Faja, magician

Frequently they will be "allowed" to win on the first or second occasion to build their confidence and encourage them to bet ever-greater amounts of money.

But the "street gamblers" win on every subsequent occasion by using sleight-of-hand techniques. They are often urged on by others who have been deliberately positioned in the crowds, the council said.

Mr Faja said "Chase the Lady" was a "well-documented game" which had been played for about 250 years.

"It's not a fair game. It's a con," he told BBC London 94.9.

"They are criminals and there's no way you can make money on it."

Often there would be a group of between three and seven men at a stall, he added.

"They're betting and other people get drawn in," he said.

Mr Faja has been performing magic for seven years, since the age of 10.

His brother worked in a pub where members of the Magic Circle used to meet, and he was inspired to learn tricks after spending time with them.

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