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Travel Money scams! Discover the most common scams when buying or selling foreign currencies

Need to change your euros into foreign local currency? This is a common operation but it has some pitfalls. In this article we will discover the most used currency exchange scams.

The magic trick

Distracted by the person next to you, the dealer has every opportunity to steal a few notes without you noticing.

You find a shady shop that displays very interesting rates (Sometimes even more interesting than the official rate!) . The amount the dealer offers you is consistent with the rate displayed on the shop. The scam happens when handling the money . The dealer retrieves notes in the local currency. When finished, it will ask you to recount . You count and the calculation is correct. So far so good. At this point a person in the shop begins to speak to you to distract you. This is when the scam happens. Distracted by the person next to you, the dealer has every opportunity to steal a few notes without you noticing. Usually the trick is to make a few notes fall on the floor when manipulating them. It is also possible for a skilled thief to slide a few notes up his sleeves. Beware, as some are very very talented and you won't see a thing.

This scam is very common in Indonesia. To avoid it, do not change money in dubious looking shops.

Folded notes

The seller counts the notes of the bundle, there is the expected number of notes. You do the same, no problem. If you open the bundle, you find that some notes have been folded in two so that you have counted the same note twice if you count from the wrong side of the bundle.

I have :

I want to get :

Counterfeit money

counterfeit money

Changing money with a dealer in the street or in a dubious shop can only be perilous. When it is not a magic trick, you may get some fake notes. Obviously, scammers are smart enough to ensure that these fake notes are not on top but a bit hidden in the middle of the bundle. This kind of scam is very common in China.

Fake calculator

rigged calculator

The idea is that the seller makes calculations using a calculator that is rigged so that the result is more favorable to him. Therefore, take your own calculator or do mental math ! A classic scam in South East Asia.

Very unfavorable exchange rates: Simple version

Even though this is not by itself a scam, always check the exchange rate displayed and compare it with the official rate. Generally it is possible to change money with less than a 5% fee (exchange rate + commissions). Travel money offices in tourist areas or airports have very unfavorable exchange rates. This is not very smart because 200m further up the road you will find another that will provide much more attractive rates. When you're traveling, always keep in mind the official rate between your currency and the local currency. Also, you should calculate how much you can expect. Do not rely on too formal or serious looking currency exchanges, it is not enough to ensure that the dealer is not a crook.

Bid/Ask rate column inversion

Some currency exchange offices inverts the bid and ask column from what is usually expected, which distorts any comparison. For example, in Europe, the currency rate table displays the EUR/USD rate. A sneaky currency exchange can display USD/EUR rates and invert the bid and ask column order so that the displayed rates are higher than the EUR/USD rates from other currency exchange. To avoid falling into the trap, always ask for sentences like: For 100€ how much would I get in US dollars? it's the best way to avoid falling into this not so obvious trap.

Very unfavorable exchange rates : a smarter version of the scam

There is a variation of the above version I have encountered in Prague. Right next to the most touristic area of Prague's bridges, there is a currency exchange that looks very serious. There are two exchange rates displayed side by side. One is very interesting, while the other is so uninteresting that I thought that it must be something else ( travellers cheques ? ). I converted my money and I saw that the dealer used the unfavorable rate. "Yes sir, the other rate is used for a transaction of 3,000 euros minimum".

In conclusion, be careful when changing money abroad! Go to a currency exchange that looks professional in which travel money is the main activity, calculate and check again and again!