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!