Mark Devereaux in McMillions. (Photo supplied: Showmax)
Mark Devereaux in McMillions. (Photo supplied: Showmax)


4/5 Stars


In the 1990s, the fast-food chain ran a Monopoly game promotion giving away prizes to its customers. This six-part docuseries tells the story of a conman who stole $24 million through a scam linked to the competition.


You probably don't remember the big McDonald's Monopoly scam - a case that would have dominated headlines at the start of the 21st Century if it didn't lose the front page spot to the world-changing 9/11 attack that happened at the same time. Stretching more than a decade and involving over $24 million of 'winnings', the scam sounds like something made up by Hollywood.

But in the HBO documentary series McMillions, the impact of this kind of scheme on the little people is the core focus, rather than some flashy villain. "These aren't bad people - they just made a stupid mistake," says one of the government officials who worked on the case. This is what will stick with you while watching this show, and how dire the far-reaching consequences of one person's actions can really be.

The scam worked like this - somehow someone got hold of the high-roller winning tickets, and used a network of people to cash them in, taking a cut themselves without any connection to themselves. The show uncovers the who, the why and the how of this successful, meticulously crafted enterprise.

McMillions, however, is not Tiger King. The characters aren't flashy, they don't live insane lifestyles nor are we exposed to a first-hand account of the main subject. It's the kind of show that will probably take you two episodes to get into (the first is an FBI ego-stroking snoozefest), and the interviews are intercut with some stiff re-enactments - but once you become more acquainted with these 'criminals', you realise how easily you might have been one of them. The 'flashiest' characters is a wannabe-cowboy FBI agent and the hot mess of a wife of a participant of the scheme - but the further you watch the more your heart will break.

The hardest part is watching the interviews with people who lost almost everything to a scam they weren't even aware they were a part of - all because of one man's greed. The worst is the impact this scam had on children who had no idea what was happening. Now grown up, their parents' mistakes still impact their lives to some extent, almost 18 years later. Weaving these people's stories together, McMillions proves one infallible point - fraud should not be dealt with a soft hand. Compared to murder, rape, drugs and other tough-sentence crimes, it might not seem like a big deal, but it still has the power to destroy lives., many with little remorse from the perpetrators.

McDonald's, for a change, comes out squeaky clean, except with a little dunce hat for not realising what was happening in their game before the FBI did - who themselves had no idea until an informant told them. So many people duped into this scheme believed that their actions wouldn't have any real impact on the corporation's bottom line - who admittedly made way more money with the campaign than the money lost to 'winnings'. The scam tarnished their brand so little, and to prove how fickle people's memories are; the Monopoly game still runs to this day.

McMillions is a fascinating, yet heartbreaking exposé on the impact of fraud on people, businesses, families and even on mental health. While you might need a conspiracy theorist level-mind map of how everything fits together, the documentary finds a way to link it all together for you at the end. It serves a fair warning - there's no such thing as free money - and the price might be more than you can afford to pay.



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