Beware - Chinese Counterfeit Currency Crisis

Published: 04th March 2009
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The Chinese New Year began on January 26 this year, and with it began a counterfeit currency crisis that now spans the entire country. These new counterfeit bills are such high quality fakes that they are even fooling the Counterfeit Detection Machines. Some unlucky individuals even received their counterfeit currency from ATM and bank tellers.

The effected currency is the 50 and 100 Yuan denomination bills. The first fakes appeared in Guangzhou as 100 Yuan bills bearing serial numbers beginning with the letters/numbers "HD90." Later, more 100's and then 50's were found in 30 cities across the country, from north to south, covering China's most economically active provinces, including Hunan, Hubei, Zhejiang, Sichuan, Guangdong, Fujian, Henan and Yunnan. These bills had serial numbers that begin with: HB90, FA, WJ135, AB77, AB99, AB99, TE, JD, and DH.

The counterfeit banknotes have been traced to Taiwan. In the past, Taiwanese counterfeiters have stunned even the US Treasury with their high-quality; factory produced "funny money." There is a long history of counterfeiting Chinese 50 and 100 Yuan currency.

China takes a firm stance against anyone caught deliberately passing counterfeit bills. The charge can carry as much as ten years in prison. As recently as January 13, 2009, a 34 year old Chinese farmer was sentenced to 10 months in prison for trying to spend his counterfeit Yuan in a Shanghai store.

It is not the purpose of this article to teach foreign visitors to identify counterfeit Chinese currency. Since cash is the preferred method of making purchases in China, where many stores do not accept credit cards, we feel it is important to pass on some tips so that the visitor can avoid receiving counterfeit currency. These tips can not only save the visitor from the loss of cash, but also save them from a potentially embarrassing situation. Many shopkeepers, aware of the current counterfeiting crisis, have posted signs stating the police will be called immediately for any customer attempting to pay using the fake Yuan bills.

Tip 1: Exchange currency only at banks

While banks have unwittingly passed the high quality 50 and 100 yuan banknotes, you are still safer exchanging your currency at a bank than at a small exchange shop. The banks are equipped with high-tech equipment that can verify the legitimacy of the banknotes. Bank tellers will not intentionally pass on bad currency. At a small neighborhood exchange shop, the verification equipment is not as readily available, and there is always the possibility that a dishonest shopkeeper will stick the foreign visitor with counterfeit bills intentionally.

Tip 2: Beware of dishonest taxi drivers

There is currently a rash of incidents of counterfeit currency being passed from taxi drivers to passengers, especially in the Guangzhou area.. The driver replaces your good bill you've given him to pay your fare with a counterfeit before passing your "bad" currency back to you. He will claim that the 50 or 100 Yuan bill you gave was a fake and insist that you take it back and give him another. In this manner, he doesn't take a loss from having received the counterfeit, and you are out your money before you ever realize it. In some cases investigated by the Chinese government, the taxi companies, along with small businesses, were the target for the counterfeiters, knowing these would make excellent conduits for passing the counterfeit currency into the economic mainstream. The taxi business, with its steady stream of passengers, and the constant changing hands of money, can not avoid the counterfeit crisis. Some dishonest cabbies are even purchasing the counterfeit bills to make a profit from unsuspecting fares.

Tip 3: Avoid small hotels, guest houses and other "budget" accommodations

The larger hotel chains will accept international credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express as payment for your room. If cash payment is required for some services, the clerks are much better trained and equipped to identify counterfeit currency. The clerks will also not risk passing counterfeit Yuan, as they cannot risk losing their jobs due to customer complaints and investigations pursed by the hotel management. Smaller hotels, guest houses and low budget accommodations may not have the training, or the higher morals, of their larger counterparts. Dishonest staff may even purposefully pass the counterfeits on to foreign guests in an attempt to spare themselves the financial loss, thinking that the visitor is less likely to be able to spot the fake among the unfamiliar currency.

Tip 4: Beware of street bazaars, small shops and marketplaces

Just as smaller hotels, exchanges shops and local cabbies are not equipped or trained to identify the counterfeit Yuan currency, so to are local shopkeepers, marketplace merchants and street vendors. Like the hotel staff and taxi drivers, they, too, may knowingly pass bad bills to foreign customers, to spare themselves the loss and possible legal difficulties. If purchases must be made in these locations, try to carry smaller bills, such as 10 and 20 Yuan notes. No counterfeit small bills have been reported. Exchange your larger denominations for smaller ones at a local bank branch before heading out to the market or bazaar. You can combine the smaller bills to equal larger amounts, if necessary, and need not fear passing or receiving counterfeit bills in return. If possible, limit your purchases to larger, more reputable department stores.

Tip 5: Avoid Chinese currency whenever possible

Now is the perfect time to invest in some travelers' checks when traveling to China. Most Chinese ATM's now accept major cards issued by Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus and other major US card issuers. Major credit cards are also accepted more frequently throughout the country. If yours will be a longer stay you may want to open a Bank of China account. With many branches through the country, you'll have easy access to safe, reliable, legal cash.

China has had a long history of difficulties with counterfeiting. Officials are aware that Taiwanese counterfeiting has been going on for over twenty years. This latest counterfeit currency crisis may have all of China in an uproar, but you, the wise and informed traveler, need not fear if you heed a few sensible, practical provides information and travel resources in China. Whether you're looking for a canton fair hotel or are traveling to a different city or region - will help you find the right advice and accommodations fast.

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