I had a run-in with counterfeit currency today. Every time I have paid for something in Peru, I have had my offered banknotes scrutinized: held up to the light and bent in several ways before they have been accepted. Now I know why.
People will tell you how dangerous Lima is, including people you converse with on the street. I am staying in Barranco, a very nice suburb of Lima, and to be honest I could be anywhere in the world. Anywhere in the world that has dog walkers, nannies with pushchairs (and mothers decked out in highlighter-bright aerobic gear jogging away from (their) squawling toddler who is trying to get out), pool cleaners, bottled water deliveries, security guards, window washers, maids, doormen and gardeners – all before 8am.
Walking along the malecon – along the cliffs between Barranco and Miraflores a taxi pulled up alongside me. The nicely dressed woman in the back – her 2yr old child asleep next to her across the backseat – waved a banknote out of the window and pleadingly asked for change so she could pay the driver. This actually does happen here in Lima, so I wasn’t overly suspicious. That, and asking directions of passersby. However after she exchanged 60 soles in clean 20s (about AU$23) for my very used 50 soles and a handful of coins, that’s when I should have cottoned on. Who changes more than they need?
And yes, checking them in a store, they were counterfeit. The paper was different – more paperish, less cloth-feeling, the printed 20 on the note didn’t change colour when it was held to the light and the black band bisecting from top to bottom wasn’t solid but a patchy strip. On the plus side, the watermark was there. Along with all the correct colours, portrait and numbers in the right place and font sizes.
Unfortunately for me though, the 3 notes were completely useless. An expensive and unwanted souvenir.
So if you see a woman and sleeping child in a yellow and black Lima taxi near Miraflores asking for change, it might be better not to volunteer yours.