Friday, December 08, 2006

COUNTERFEIT MONEY in Peru

Counterfeit money is a big problem in Peru. I have seen imitation small coins made from plastic that are good copies of the original. Paper money and larger bills are also common fraud items. That is why most stores will only accept clean untorn bills. Dirty money can camouflage paper currency that has been tampered with or reproduced on a good copy machine.

The base for Peruvian money system is the “Sole” pronounces “So-lass”. Compared to the American dollar one Sole is worth about 27 to 33 cents. The exchange rate varies day-to-day by a few cents. A one Sole coin is about the size of an American quarter and is made from a yellow brass colored metal. The coins are stamped with ornate designs of faces and fig leaves.

During my travels in the deepest part of the jungle the store merchants were extra careful about looking for fake coins. I think it must be because of the drug trade and this region of Peru has more illegal activity. The Soles coins were what all the venders kept looking at most closely. I would buy a soda for three soles coins and hand the money to the vender. They would examine each of the three coins, then hand one back to me...shaking their heads and saying...“No good”. I would ask “Porque?” (why). The vender would show me something wrong on the coin’s fig leaf. I would dig in my pocket for another Soles coin and give the vender a new one. The vender would look at the new coin and give me a smile and thumbs up that the coin was okay.

As I purchased items from different venders in that same town I started to divide my two pants pockets between accepted and rejected coins. The local experts had taught me how to look for counterfeit coins. When I traveled to the next village the venders looked at my money carefully again. However my “accepted coins” were no good in their village. They wanted coins from my “rejected coin” pocket. Since I had plenty of both types of coins I decided I could play along with their game. Sometimes they would reject a coin and I would put it back in my pocket keeping my hand closed around the coin. Then I would jingle the coins in my pocket and hand the same coin back to them again. They would examine the “new coin” and give me the thumbs up. I couldn’t figure what they were looking for on a coin to determine if it was fake. I don’t think they knew what to look for either. As I traveled for several days through this area I must of touched and spent over 100 coins. All my rejected coins were always welcomed somewhere else.

END

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