If you know anything about the great McDonald’s Monopoly scam of the late ‘80s to early 2000s, then you probably know it all started with the infamous Uncle Jerry. McMillions — the HBO documentary which premieres February 3 — uncovers the network of scammers and criminals who defrauded McDonald’s, essentially stealing more than $24 million dollars. But it really did all start with one guy who took advantage of a corporate marketing stunt and turned it into an epic web of greed and crime. Here's what you need to know about the McMastermind.
Who Is Uncle Jerry?
Uncle Jerry’s real name is Jerome Jacobson, and he's a former police officer who was born in 1943 in Ohio, according to The Daily Beast expose which McMillions is based on. In the ‘80s, Jacobson started working at a printing company and closely worked with Simon Marketing, which oversaw the McDonald’s Monopoly game. There, Jacobson was put in charge of making sure the production and transportation of McDonald’s Monopoly tickets went smoothly. He built a solid reputation (he would literally check employees’ shoes to ensure nobody was stealing game pieces), so nobody would suspect what would happen next.
What Did Uncle Jerry Do?
Kicking off in 1987, McDonald’s introduced a new marketing promotion: It would include different colored Monopoly stickers on various menu items. The more you purchased meals from McDonald’s, the more Monopoly stickers you could collect, and more likely (theoretically) you’d be able to win big money. The mega winner would get a check from McDonald’s for the grand prize of $1 million, but there were also other, smaller prizes you could win as well, like some cash or some free French fries. But someone, aka Uncle Jerry, figured out that while many were desperate to win, almost no one was. He created fake game pieces and set up a system that would eventually have people would paying him for the "winning" pieces, a scam that would make him and his criminal associates millions of dollars.
At first though, Jacobson decided to test the waters and see what he could get away with. The former cop slipped his stepbrother a Monopoly piece worth $25,000. This snowballed into a larger scheme, which consisted of selling the Monopoly pieces individuals needed to win big, and once they “won,” Jacobson would get a cut. Sometimes, Jacobson would require that the person pay up to $50,000 up front before getting a winning $1 million dollar ticket.
For years, Uncle Jerry picked and chose “winners” who would appear on television, exclaiming their luck and good fortune from the heavens. He and his network of fraudsters were behind all of it, making a cut off of each and every “win.” Throughout all those years the McDonald’s Monopoly promotion lasted, there were barely any true winners.
What Happened To Uncle Jerry?
One of the early players was a butcher Jacobson knew who lived in Atlanta. What seems like out of pure ego, Jacobson told him he could make the butcher a winner — easy. But since the two were friends and lived near each other, they concocted a plan: A friend who lived far away would actually win the $10,000 prize ticket which would be cashed, given back to the butcher, and then out of that $10,000, Jacobson earned a $2,000 kickback. It wasn’t traceable right away. Another “winner” was Gloria Brown made her deal in Jacksonville, but was then instructed to go to South Carolina to “win” her Monopoly prize, and she was even coached on what to say, because too many winners happened to be living in Jacksonville and the McFraudsters didn't want McDonald's to catch on.
In March 2000, the FBI got a tip that one of the “winners” from back in 1996, William Fisher, wasn’t a true winner and that he scammed McDonald’s. McDonald's pulled on that thread and discovered a legion of winners from Jacksonville. McDonald’s purposely kept the game going so that they could keep tracking the “winners” (I totally imagine a corkboard with photographs all being connected with a red piece of yarn). Phones were wiretapped. Identities were revealed. It was really only a matter of time before it all pointed to Uncle J.
Eventually he was found out — along with at least 50 others who were involved, including normal folks Jacobson persuaded to join in on the game, according to The Daily Beast. Jacobson of course, did not have a Get Out of Jail Free Card, and pleaded guilty, owning McDonald’s millions of dollars. Ultimately, Uncle Jerry was sentenced 37 months in prison.
Where Is Uncle Jerry Now?
When the The Daily Beast article was published in 2018, Jacobson was 76 and in “poor health” but living a quaint life in Georgia. That would make him 78 now, and there have been no official reports of his whereabouts. Though, we suspect that, at the moment, Uncle J doesn’t have anymore McScams up his sleeve.