Medellin Colombia – Counterfeit Money

I was in Medellin last week and something happened for the first time. After a few years of visiting many cities in Colombia I finally got hit with a counterfeit $50,000 pesos bill. The strange part is that I am 100% sure I received it from an official exchange house, which should not have happened. I only change my money at official exchange houses. 90% of the time I use this well know worldwide company. I will not mention the name, but it does not take a genius to figure out who it is. You can also send and receive money from this company. I have never seen an unofficial exchange house in Colombia. They all ask for your passport and fingerprint. I usually change about $300 to $400 the first day of every trip. This is about $840,000 COP ($300 US). This means I will receive about 16 of the $50,000 COP bills. I always assume that since I am getting the money from the official exchange house the bills would be good. I guess I never had any issues in the last 2 years. Since I are receiving the money in a mall in front of so many people I usually just put the money away as fast as possible. That will have to change in the future.

I will recommend that you all carefully check each large bill very carefully. Take the time in case they slip a bad one in the bunch. I am not sure if one just slipped through their process or it was done on purpose. $50,000 COP is almost $20 US. Maybe someone working at the store needed to pay some bills. Who knows.

Let me explain what happened. I took a taxi back to the hotel in El Poblado one afternoon. I gave the driver the $50,000 COP. He felt it and returned it saying “malo”. I immediately responded that it is good. He said he needed another bill, therefore I just gave him a $20,000 COP and he was good to go. I then went to the Subway next to the hotel and gave the guy the $50,000 COP. Actually, I did not give him the same $50,000 on purpose. I guess it was just the same one I put back in the front of my wallet. He said the same thing. Malo. It is no good. I looked at the bill and told him it must be good because I received it at the well known exchange house. He said he would show me how to tell it is bad. First he use the pen to mark the bill. If it leave a mark it is bad. He showed me another bill where he used the pen and it did not leave a mark. The mark just faded away in a few seconds. Then he asked me to feel the paper. It took a few tries but I felt the difference. After a more detailed inspection of the bill I noticed that the magnetic strip across the bill was almost missing. It was so light I barely could see the strip. I thought it was a good job because the bill even had the watermark when you held it up to the light. I looked at the security magnetic strip across the other $50,000 bills and them the counterfeit and it was obvious it was a counterfeit. You could barely see the bright silver strip. I few people said I should have returned the bill to the location where I received the bill. That would be useless because I had no proof I received the bill at their location. Once you leave the counter you are stuck with the bills. I just saved it to show to friends as a lesson.

Well, it cost me $19, but it was a good lesson.  Could have been worse. In the future I will take my time and inspect every large bill in front of the clerk. I suggest you do the same.

Here is another trick which caught me a few years ago in Santo Domingo. I received (8) $100 bills from my bank in Florida, therefore I know they were good bills. I went to an unofficial casa de cambio in Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo because they had a lot better rate than the bank. The unofficial houses also do not ask for your passport and in the bank it is required. I went to the counter and gave the guy four $100 bills. He took the bills, then almost immediately a nice young lady called out to me and ask me a question. Obviously you have to look in her direction and see whats up. Just natural. She asked me to buy her a drink. I looked and said maybe later tonight. In those split seconds the man at the counter switched one of the $100 bills. When I turned around he said one of my $100 bill is bad. Its a counterfeit. I have to replace it. Yes, he got me. Looking back at the situation what I should have done was to call the police immediately and report the situation. Maybe I could not have proven he switched the bills but it would have definitely put the location on notice in case it happened again. I should have made a big stink in front of the location and see what happened. Another lesson learned.

There are a few other unofficial exchange houses in Santo Domingo. There is one which has a security door where you have to be buzzed in and they usually only let in one person at at time. At a location like that you have a better chance of not having an issue.