“Bunco” is a game or swindling scheme. A “bunco squad” (or “fraud squad”) is a police department dealing with fraud. A “bunco crime” is a swindle in which a person is cheated at gambling, persuaded to buy a nonexistent or worthless object, or otherwise victimized.
And a “bunco artist”? A confidence trickster or con artist.
Bunco was originally a confidence game, originating in 1800s England. It was imported to San Francisco as a gambling activity in 1855, where it gave its name to gambling parlors, or “Bunco parlors,” and more generally to any swindle. After the Civil War, the game evolved to a popular parlor game. During the 1920s and Prohibition, Bunco was re-popularized as a gambling game, often associated with a speakeasy.
Bunco as a family game became popular again in the 1980s. According to the World Bunco Association, in 2005, “over 59 million women have played Bunco and over 27 million play regularly.” The first Bunco World Championship was held in 2006.
As it is played today, Bunco is a social dice game involving 100% luck and no skill (there are no decisions to be made), scoring and a simple set of rules. Bunco fundraisers have become increasingly popular over the years, earning large sums for charities. According to The Washington Post, Bunco is sometimes referred to as the housewife’s drinking game.
Players may play online with people from all over the world.
Three common bunco swindling schemes are:
— Examiner Scheme: A stranger says that he or she is an examiner or investigator and asks you to help catch a dishonest employee. Beware! Banks never involve their account holders in investigations. The con artist says he or she will re-deposit your money in such a way that the “dishonest” teller will be caught red-handed. The phony examiner will give you a fake receipt, never to be seen or heard from again.
— Pigeon Drop Scheme: A stranger tells you he or she has found some money and tries to convince you that it was ill-gotten by the loser (maybe a gambler) and can be kept. Beware again! You will be told you may share the find if you withdraw money from your savings to show “good faith.” The envelope or bag will be quickly switched. Only on going back to re-deposit your money do you discover you have merely pieces of blank paper.
— Automobile and Home Repair Scheme
Vagabond thieves will inform the owner of a dented vehicle that they can make the repairs cheaply. After the work is done the thieves may then say the job was complicated and charge an exorbitant fee. The same thing will happen with home repairs.
I’ve never played Bunco. And I’ve never been buncoed. I’m lucky!