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Melissa Sim
Tuesday, Jul 8, 2014

World

All-a-Twitter over hide-and-seek cash giveaways

The Straits Times | Melissa Sim | Tuesday, Jul 8, 2014

Mr Jason Buzi says he will consider taking the scavenger hunt to Singapore, but notes that “it’s very expensive there, so we need to put a lot of money”.

Real estate investor Jason Buzi has found a novel way to give away money.

For the last six weeks, he has been hiding cash - US$50 (S$62) to US$200 - in secret locations in cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, London and Tel Aviv, and posting clues to its location on Twitter using the handle @HiddenCash.

In San Francisco for example, the clue was "Hope the sea lions don't get it", referring to pier 39 on the waterfront, while in Chicago, the hint was "find your green by the bean", which led people to the Cloud Gate sculpture, also known as The Bean, in Millennium Park.

The clues prompt a flurry of activity, with reports of people turning up moments after the tweet goes out and working with strangers or family members to find the loot.

Those who find the money - taped under benches, or in a tree or even buried in the sand - are encouraged to tweet photos of themselves with the US$20 bills to announce their success.

Last week, Mr Buzi launched a Facebook page which listed Tokyo as one of the cities - and the first Asian city - where the scavenger hunt might take place next.

While no exact date has been set yet, Mr Buzi, 43, tells The Sunday Times he short-listed Japan's capital because it is "the biggest city in the world and one of the biggest countries in Asia".

To date, Mr Buzi, an American citizen who was born in Israel, has already given away US$30,000 to about 500 people in 20 cities. When asked why he decided to give away money this way, the property investor, who earned his millions flipping homes in California, says he "wanted to do something fun for San Francisco", where he lives.

Some of his first "drops" involved taping envelopes of cash to parking meters and tweeting photos of the general vicinity.

"After a week, we had over 400,000 followers and international media attention," he says. That number has since grown to 659,000. Mr Buzi, who is single, says he continued the scavenger hunts because "so many people were so excited and happy about it".

Now he ropes in friends across the US and in other cities to help hide the cash.

Sceptics have raised questions online about his motive for these cash giveaways but Mr Buzi insists there is no business or political agenda. Rather, his hope is that his deeds will inspire others to pay it forward and use the money to do good.

"There is a need for more kindness and generosity in the world - this is what we are about," he writes on Twitter.

One participant, Baylie Schell, 16, a high school student who lives in Livermore, California, tells The Sunday Times that when the clues and a photo of a tree were released last Tuesday, she and her friend rushed out to look for the envelope.

After about half an hour, Baylie found US$110 buried in front of a tree in Shadow Cliffs Regional Park. She says: "I went shopping a bit and also paid it forward by paying for a few random people's lunch."

It's stories like this of people sharing their joy that keep Mr Buzi going.

"There are multiple stories of people buying groceries or gas for strangers, giving to the homeless, donating to charity, or just buying lunch for their co-workers or ice cream for people at the beach," says Mr Buzi, who says he grew up in a middle-class family and has a master's degree in economics.

Naturally, his generosity has prompted people in financial trouble to write to him for help. But he insists this is not what @HiddenCash is about.

"We are not a charity," he says. "We are a fun game and way to remind people to give back."

As for whether he will be taking the scavenger hunt to Singapore, Mr Buzi says: "Yes, I have been there, and will consider it. But it will not be the first place we do in Asia. Also, it's very expensive there, so we need to put a lot of money."

simlinoi@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 06, 2014.
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