I mentioned the problem of counterfeit currency here in Argentina in an earlier post called 15 Money Tips for Travelers in Argentina, but the practice seems to be becoming more pervasive, so let’s update those tips and include a lesson on how to spot fake bills. (If you think you already know how, try our quiz to test your skills).
Why the update? Well, our last guests in The Loft exchanged US dollars at the airport and were given 200 pesos worth of fake bills. At the airport! They didn’t realize they were fake until they tried to pay a cab driver with one. He handed it back telling them it was a fake.
I thought that the cab driver might have actually switched out their real bill for a fake one (that’s #7 on my list of 15 money tips). But they assured me that’s not how it happened and when we checked the rest of their bills, they had three fakes in total.
How to Spot Fake Argentinean Currency
Hold the bill up in front of a light. You will be looking for a couple of things as you do this. Have a look at these photos below. In both photos, the top bill is real and the bottom one is fake.
You should see a clear and very well defined watermark of the face of the ex-president that’s on the bill. Look at these photos above. The watermarks on the top are well defined even in the shadows. The lines are clear and clean. The fake on the left is pretty good, but the shadows don’t have the definition. The fake on the right is pathetic. Also, be sure to flip the bill over and look at it from both sides. You can typically spot a fake watermark when you look at the back side of it because it’s been printed on that side and it isn’t a watermark at all.
Below the face, you should see the initials of that ex-president. On the 100s, the ex-president is Julio Argentino Roca (JAR). The fake on the right (in the photos above) doesn’t have any initials at all. The one on the left has initials, but when you’ve seen enough real pesos, you can tell this one doesn’t look right. The letters are too thin and not enough light is passing through. The details overall are fuzzy.
How about in this one above? It’s an awful fake, but do you notice anything besides the watermark that’s different?
The Solid Line
Before you hold a bill up to have the light show through it, you’ll see a vertical line of silver-like dashes. On the bad fakes, the dashes are clearly painted on. Notice how when you hold the bill up to the light, the dashed line turns to a solid black line and it has writing on it. It should have the denomination of the actual bill on it, but it’s tiny and a bit hard to read. Look back at the photos above. Notice how in each case, the real bill (i.e. the top one) has a vertical line and each of the fakes on the bottom remain dashed lines.
The last way and probably most common first step in identifying a fake is to feel the paper. But if you’ve never felt pesos, you aren’t sure what the paper should feel like. I can typically tell when I’m holding a fake just by the way the paper feels. It feels like printer paper.
Rub your finger over the denomination (i.e. the 100, 50, etc.) in the bottom right corner. It shouldn’t be smooth. There is a slight roughness where the numbers are raised.
The Serial Numbers
And while this will only be a clue if you’re being given a few fakes together that were made by the same person, the serial numbers should all be different. The couple that was given 200 fake pesos at the airport got these two fifty notes. Both notes had the exact same serial numbers. The horizontal numbers at the top right and the vertical numbers on the left side should be the same.
How to Avoid Being Given Fake Pesos
When you exchange money, check each note. Hold it up to the light right there in front of the cashier. Don’t worry that you’re taking too long even if there is a long line. Hold up each note and check it. If you detect a fake, hand it back. Do the same when you’re given 100s or 50s anywhere. People will not be offended. Checking bills is totally normal here.
You won’t likely get fake money from an ATM, but if you do for some reason, you’ll need to go into the bank and see if they’ll change it. I’ve been here four years and I use ATMs all the time. I’ve never gotten fake money from one though I have heard that others have.
Quick update. Deanna commented below that she got fake bills from an ATM on Calle Florida.
And to keep a taxi driver from giving you a fake bill, you should do your best to pay with small notes and as close to the amount as possible. But when you have no choice but to pay with a 100 or 50 peso note, before you hand it to the driver, hold it up to the light so he can see you checking the watermark and strip. Then, remember the serial number (the last two digits and the letter) and tell him you’re handing him the note that ends in that number. He won’t be able to switch it out because the numbers will not match.
Do you guys have any other tips I missed?