Spot the difference

Spot the difference, real vs fake (hint: bottom 2 are fake)

Learning to spot the difference between real and fake bank notes in Colombia is an easy but important skill to have.

Regardless of how easy it is to spot the difference (and it is very easy by feeling the thicker paper and the pixelated print job), there’s a degree of difficulty added in. You can be awesome at knowing the difference and seeing the difference, but then environmental factors come in to play, which actually means you can get it wrong and end up losing money. Which is what happened to me today.

You see, when you are distracted or are just trusting, or naive, you are much more susceptible to falling victim to the bank note switcharoo.

Here’s how it happens.

You get to your destination and pay the taxi driver the fare. In my case, the fare was $6,900 and I handed over a $5000 and $2000 peso note, said thanks and then glanced down at my bag to pick it up and depart the taxi. I’d performed the transaction in a manner of ‘keep the change’.

Then the driver says, “This note is not good, please give me another one.”

I looked at the $5000 peso note he was giving me back, and sure enough, a single glance tells me it is fake.

I am surprised. I received it as change from Juan Valdez, and cashiers in stores are very vigilant about receiving fake notes. I don’t have another five thousand peso note to give him.

I then give the taxi driver a $20,000 peso note. He takes it and then says “Ufff, can you give me something smaller.” This is not an unreasonable request, although most taxi drivers can change a $20,000 note. I start looking in my purse and take the note back and shove it in.

I say I only have $4000 pesos. Taxi driver says “That’s okay, just give me that.”

I’m a little dubious about him accepting well below the fare, but give him the two $2000 peso notes and leave the taxi.

I was meeting friends for coffee so I showed them the fake $5000 peso note “Look what I got today!”

Later, as we were paying, I took out a $20,000 peso note out of my purse and as soon as I unfolded it, I knew it was fake too.

Scammed! I felt so silly and couldn’t believe that I’d gotten two fake notes totalling AUD$11.30 (a day’s minimum wage in Colombia).

In essence, the taxi driver had switched both the $5000 and $20,000 notes I’d given him for fake ones. He fooled me twice over, first by pretending I’d given him the fake fiver, and secondly by pretending he didn’t have change for a $20,000 note and switching my real note for a fake one.

I’ve only received a fake note once before, a couple of years ago when I got a $2000 peso note, also from a taxi driver.

Mistake #1 – taking a taxi in the street. Immediately upon doing this, you should pay a lot more attention to what’s going on. If you use a taxi app the risk of being fleeced is minimised and you can make a complaint because you have a record of the driver’s details. I should have taken note of the licence plate of the taxi I got in the street.

Mistake #2 – believing that I’d given him a fake $5000. No sir, that was not the case. You know when you have a fake note in your wallet. While you might not notice it when you receive it, you always spot the difference later when you go to use it for a payment.

Mistake #3 – not being on alert when the taxi driver handed me back money a second time after the first “this is fake” pass and paying closer attention to what was going on. Each time he only handed back one note so there wasn’t anything to compare between a fake and a real one.

Mistake #4 – thinking I’d been given the fake notes by a chain store (that had also given me a pamphlet about the security features of the new $50,000 notes about to be introduced, how ironic). If this kind of thing happens in a taxi, it’s far more likely that’s the origin of the fake notes.

So the take home lesson is be alert, be vigilant, and doubly so if you are a foreigner. It’s 78 days until Christmas, so robberies are going to go up and there are probably going to be more fake note scams going around. Keep your cash safe people!


Reasons why American money is stupid

Now that I’m in the land of the greenback, I am discovering that whilst it may be the currency that dominates the world, it lags far behind in terms of user-friendliness and technology.

Here are some reasons to support my argument that American money is stupid.

US money
All very same same but different with the greenback denominations.

1. It is all the same colour

Every single note is a greeny, yellowy beige. When you open your purse up, you have to inspect each note carefully before handing it over.

2. The notes are all the same size
Or virtually and they don’t recognise mere millimetres here, so we’ll just say that they are the same size. Again, it means that you need to inspect each note when deciding what to pull out of your purse.

3. Pennies still exist
In America at least, the one cent coin is essentially redundant. If you are going to have a useful coin, it is the quarter. That’s what parking meters and laundromats all desire. On some rare occasions you may receive a $1 coin, which parking meters also like, but that hardly ever occurs.

4. Checks!
If the movie Catch Me If You Can didn’t highlight how fraudulent the world of cheques is, then I don’t know what would. They love those bits of paper with amounts written in full and displaying your autograph. Currently Chase Bank are advertising a phone app that takes photos of your checks and then deposits them automatically in your account. I find this ridiculous. If you’re going to embrace mobile technology, just get with the sometime-ago technology of online banking and bpay! In Australia, no landlord accepts cheques, hell, hardly anyone accepts cheques nowadays. Here, you have to furnish your landlord with a cheque. There’s no alternatives for cash or electronic banking. Totally weird.

Withdrawing $500 from the ATM gives you 25 notes. I’d say that is akin to losing the game of Uno.

5. The ATMs only dispense $20 notes

If you withdraw the usual ATM maximum of $500, it spits out twenty five $20 notes. TWENTY FIVE! Some ATMs allow you to a) withdraw more and b) give you $50 notes, but that is not the norm.

So I guess you could say that I’m finding these monetary issues frustrating. I just don’t get it. But on the bright side, the cash and cheque deposit facility on the ATMs here is great. You just feed them in like a carpark pay station and it automatically deposits.

I never thought I’d miss our colourful Aussie money or banking processes, but we really have a great system.

Colourful Australian money
Ah, the colourful (and different sized) monetary notes of Australia.

Bank of Big Sister is no longer lending

The Bank of Big Sister has two customers. Two poor credit rating customers by the names of Bro #1 and Bro #2.

This should really come as no surprise as it all started some 20 years ago when Bro #2 took advantage of his kindergarten hours to steal $10 I thought I had cleverly hidden in my room while I was at school. I never saw that $10 again. He also stole from Bro #1, which brought about some fun conversations in Bro #1’s sleep. “Bro #2 give me back my $10” was heard in the wee hours of one evening.

As horrid as my brothers can be, they can also be exceptionally charming and they also know how to press all of big sister’s buttons. They manage to wheedle money out of me by finding the weakest spot and pressing until it caves in. The weakest spot just so happens to be a desire to make things okay for them and to help them get through ‘tough’ times and the pressing usually involves them being extraordinarily nice to me and seemingly very considerate.

Yesterday was a perfect example. Bro #2 called to ask if he could borrow some money, despite his outstanding debt and having just paid 50% of it back three days earlier. My steely exterior was really just the density of steel wool, with plenty of cracks and gaps. He begged that it was for a date with, in a coy voice, “some girl”. Crumble, crumble, crumble went my resolve as I desperately tried to bolster my steely exterior.

“But I just need it to put some fuel in my car,” continued Bro #2, sensing his prey was weakening. The how much started at $50 and went down to $20 as I managed to bite my tongue from responding as quickly as he thought I would.

I asked when I would expect repayment, to which Bro #2 replied “I’ll get Mum to give it to you”. You see my mother manages my brothers’ money, giving them small allowances, while making sure there is money in their account for loan repayments and paying their phone bills online. They have us all twisted around their little fingers, even Other Sister gets hit up for money, despite the fact that the boys probably earn more than her – frugality didn’t get passed on to the male gene in my family.

So, against my better judgement, but with a lecture of “you really need to learn how to budget your money and understand what its value is and what you should be spending it on” my steely exterior crumbled like tin foil and bled plastic money.