Zootopia's Popsicle Fraud Has A Weird Real-Life Counterpart

(Hot) fudging the numbers.
Zootopia's Popsicle Fraud Has A Weird Real-Life Counterpart

If you've ever seen Zootopia, or if you're a young parent during the quarantine seeing Zootopia today for the 300th day in a row, you'll remember the first crime witnessed in the movie -- no, not the interspecies bestiality. After helping Nick Wilde acquire a giant popsicle, Officer Judy Hopps discovers he is running an illegal popsicle racket. Nick multiplies the elephantine frozen treat into smaller "pawpsicles," selling them for a serious markup to gullible lemmings. Not only that, he then goes to mice construction sites to sell his home-made popsicle sticks as expensive hardwood, endangering dozens of rodent families with materials that were only ever supposed to support an ounce of frozen water.

It's the kind of whimsical summertime fun business fraud you could see happen in a Disney movie, but surely no one would ever try to pull a popsicle ploy on the mean streets of the real world? Tell that to a pair of Turkish crooks who, in 2012, made it to the big time as Ice Cream Bandits. When an Istanbul ice cream company started running an inventive "buy one, get one free" promotion where customers could turn in their clean-licked popsicle sticks for a free ice cream bar, they concocted a plan to counterfeit the popsicle sticks as if it was actual money.

Just not the kind you can put in a stripper's thong without risking some serious splinters. 

With nothing but a few woodworking machines and their fox-like cunning, the pair started manufacturing countless popsicle stick fakes with the word "free" printed on them. Then, like meth lab cooks who've dropped pins on every place on Google Maps that sells nose spray, would trade in small amounts at every mom-and-popsicle store across the city. When they gathered up a veritable bounty of their black market ice cream truck, they'd drive to a distant market and sell them there for half price.

Giorgio Montifori, Flickr
Which Eastern European kid wouldn't buy ice cream from a guy in a windowless van?

The popsicle scam lasted for three hot summers before the ice cream company counted its secondhand stick collection and noticed they had been swindled. The Constantinople con artists were finally caught in 2015, with Turkish police raiding their ice lolly lair and confiscating the sticks sprinkled inside. A year later, Zootopia was released. Coincidence? Most definitely. What inspired what followed is less obvious. In 2020, a Japanese 'copycat' counterfeiter used the exact same scam to win an ice cream competition for a rare and valuable Pokemon trading card. Maybe he got the idea from a Disney movie. Maybe he had heard of the legend of the Turkish popsicle stick men. Or maybe, just maybe, he figured it was, like, really easy to counterfeit a small piece of wood.

For more sticky, sugary tangents, do follow Cedric on Twitter.

Top Image: Disney

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