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Avoid Counterfeit Money Scams

In Business and Currency, Travel by Continental Staff1 Comment

Counterfeit money scams are some of the most common and costly to Western tourists overseas. Thankfully the first step to protecting yourself is to simply be aware of the most common counterfeit money scams.

Switching real bills for fakes

The set-up: You get into a taxi, the driver says that he will drive you anywhere for a flat rate, but you have to pay up front first. You hand him a bill, he turns back to the front seat, then hands the bill back claiming he doesn’t have the right change.

The scam: Instead of handing your original bill back he switches it with a counterfeit bill, leaving you with the fake and him with an easy profit. Then maybe you hand him another real bill and he returns it for another fake. Sometimes the driver will still take you to your location, other times they might drive you out to the middle of nowhere.

How to avoid this scam:

  • Don’t pay upfront for a service
  • Only use licensed cabs
  • Ask to be dropped off at a hotel lobby – the doormen will usually be able to spot a scam even if you can’t

taxi cab yellow car transportation

Counterfeit change

The set-up: You go into a small store, restaurant, cab, or street vendor. You don’t want to use your credit card (or maybe they don’t accept card) so you pay cash.

The scam: The cashier hands you back your change. Some time later you go to make another purchase, or maybe even change your currency back to CAD only to realise that the currency they returned to you was fake.

How to avoid this scam:

  • Visit trusted locations
  • Familiarise yourself with the local currency
  • Don’t use large bills for small purchases
  • Avoid fake taxis
  • Check the serial number on your bill before you hand it over

magnifying glass coins stack money

Your bills are fake

This scam is the opposite of traditional counterfeit scams because YOU are the conman…or so the real con artist claims.

The set-up: You walk into a store or bureau de change. You hand over your cash but there is a problem. It is fake! Could it have been that shady looking cab driver? Maybe it was that street vendor? You were so careful, how could this have happened?

The scam: Next thing you know the teller is asking to see the rest of your cash. You hold it up and they say it is all fake too! But hold on, didn’t you exchange that currency in Canada? How could it be fake. Then it dawns on you that you weren’t scammed before, you are being scammed now! Soon the teller calls some “security guards” or “policemen” who demand you hand over the cash. Fake police are a common (and surprisingly simple) scam in many places around the world.

How to avoid this scam:

  • Exchange currency before you travel
  • Call the actual police if there is an incident
  • Don’t hand over your money in the heat of the moment unless you feel that you are danger

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Real bills, wrong country

Strictly speaking this scam does not (necessarily) involve counterfeit money, instead it involves the wrong type of currency.

The set-up: Someone on the street, usually in a tourist area, approaches you and offers to exchange currency at a cheaper rate than the bureau de change. They might even try to tell you that the bureau de change are ripping you off.

The scam: You agree to exchange with the scammer. They show you the money and offer you a rate. You double check the rate and it is indeed better than the rates posted at the bureau de change. You hand over your cash and they give you the agreed upon amount. So good so far. But then you go to a shop and try to spend your new cash only to find that it is the right amount, but for the wrong country. In other cases the bills may look real but they are actually fake.

See for yourself in this scam-busting video from Prague:

How to protect yourself

To protect yourself from counterfeit money scams:

  • Exchange your currency before you leave on vacation
  • Familiarise yourself with common scams in the region you are visiting
  • Familiarise yourself with the appearance, colour, and texture of the currency you need
  • Never pay up front
  • Only use licensed cabs
  • Be aware of your surroundings!

Learn more about tourist scams and how to avoid them.

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