Saudi police are investigating the origins of a hoax that has led hundreds of people to believe that old sewing machines contain a bogus substance called red mercury, which can sell for a fortune.
The English-language Saudi Gazette newspaper said some buyers were willing to pay up to 200,000 riyals (40,400 euros) for an old Singer sewing machine proven to contain the red mercury.
Mobile telephones are supposedly employed as instruments to prove the existence of the fake substance, which is believed to help uncover hidden gold treasures and can be used to create a nuclear bomb.
“If the line cuts off when the telephone is placed close to the needle … that proves the existence of the substance,” Saudi Gazette said.
According to the Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper, poverty provides a fertile ground for this type of rumour to spread in Saudi society, especially among the middle classes.
Thousands of Saudi citizens have lost their life savings to financial scams consisting mainly of operations to raise money for real estate projects.