Over a few weeks ago, I went to a store in Iztapalapa to buy some a bottle of brandy.
There is always a old grandma looking woman and a middle aged woman that are working that store.
At first, the middle aged woman thought I asked for "pasta" instead of brandy and asked me "which pasta you want?"
The grandma heard me correctly though and reiterated what I said "quiere brandy."
Not sure how somebody confuses the words pasta for brandy.
But we all laughed about it.
She asks me "the usual? Don Pedro?"
I nod my head.
With the brandy on the counter, I hand her a 200 peso bill as the bottle usually costs 190 pesos in this little store.
The woman turns around and immediately turns back around facing me going "wait a second, this is fake."
I watched her clearly and her hands were clearly on the bill the entire time and not in her pockets.
And I don't believe she pulled some scam of taking out a fake bill and swapping it with what I gave her.
Right away, she concluded it was fake anyhow.
And, long story short, they pulled out another 200 peso bill and compared the one I gave to the one they had.
To be honest, I couldn't tell that much of a difference between the two.
They kept telling me to "feel the paper" but it felt like the other bill.
There were some obvious differences though.
If you hold it up to the light, you'll see a "200" number that doesn't look as right as it does in the other bills.
And the little strip on the side looks different too.
So maybe it was fake.
I took the bill back with me anyhow and asked the landlord if it was fake.
He took a look and concluded it was also.
The thing is though I remember exactly who gave me this bill.
I ended up buying two things the day before: a hamburger and 3 micheladas.
Paid for both with a 500 peso bill.
And got change for the hamburger with two 200 bills and the micheladas with a 1 200 peso bill and some extra change.
It had to have been from the michelada dude that drove up to my house to deliver the drinks.
At any rate, I grabbed another 200 peso bill that night and went to buy the brandy.
The bill on the top is fake and the bill on the bottom is real.
While unfortunate, it was only 10 dollars lost (200 pesos).
But it did get me thinking for a second: what would happen if I was caught using a 200 peso fake bill and they wanted to fuck with me?
For one, I imagine no shortage of Mexicans have used fake currency several times in their lives without realizing it.
As you can see here, fake currency is quite abundant in Mexico.
Plus, I'd imagine they'd have to prove intent as someone could argue that they didn't know it was fake.
Though, on the flip side, I could easily see some cop exploiting the situation.
While cops are shit here at investigating things as grave as murder, they are very efficient on using any situation to get a bribe out of someone.
Even to the point of accusing you of a crime you didn't do and wanting a bribe as once happened to me that you can read here.
So, in such a scenario, I could see perhaps a cop using the situation to get a bribe out of you.
But that would also require the vendor to take it that far and call the cops.
Well, I've only had two experiences with fake bills.
In this circumstance in Iztapalapa, the chicks at the store knew me and perhaps trusted me more.
Plus, I'm a white gringo and not some local barrio looking kid with tattoos all over his face.
So that probably helps my case that I didn't purposefully use fake bills in their eyes.
Though, as I wrote here, I did have one time a lady accuse me of wanting to steal tea but that's another story.
On the other occasion where I was told my bill was fake, I was in a 7-11 in Rosa neighborhood walking to Metro Insurgentes years ago.
I had a 20 peso bill that was supposedly fake according to the lady behind the counter.
I remember posting a picture of it on Twitter and a few dudes said "it looks fine."
Had a few other people look at it in real life and they claimed it seemed fine too.
So who knows about that one.
Outside of that, I don't have any personal experience with how the locals react to getting fake bills because I don't purposefully try handing them to people here obviously.
Though, when I lived in a neighborhood called Pedregal de Santo Domingo of Coyoacan, I do remember seeing some street vendor somewhere along Ahuanusco street that had an interesting sign.
I forgot what he was selling but he had some sign that said "if you are caught giving me a fake bill, I will beat you."
Literally "I will beat you."
It reminds me of those signs you see in some parts of Mexico City that read "CAREFUL! IF CAUGHT STEALING, WE WILL LYNCH YOU!"
Those signs are either "neighborhood group" signs or they are seen outside of certain markets.
And they mean it!
As you can see here, lynchings are not that rare in Mexico.
The main reason for why that is the case is because the locals don't trust the cops to actually do their jobs and arrest you.
So they'll punish you themselves.
So, if you get caught using a fake bill unintentionally, you better hope that the man you are giving it too doesn't go to the gym as much as you, doesn't have buddies and does not have a weapon.
We might be putting your fighting skills to a test pretty quickly.
If a local like that did individually try punching you though, should you fight back?
That question sounds like it should have an obvious answer, no?
Why the fuck wouldn't you?
But, as I think about that specific street vendor in Santo Domingo, I do wonder what would happen if you unintentionally gave the fake bill, he begins punching you and you kick his ass?
Would other vendors come to his rescue?
Then, as some sort of mob mentality, they all begin kicking your ass?
After enough time down here, shit like that wouldn't surprise me.
Sometimes the locals do have this "us vs them" mentality and, at the sight of what they all believe to be a criminal and are likely sick of criminals targeting them, would perhaps team up on you.
And you being a foreigner may or may not help the situation. On one hand, it's easier to believe a foreigner from the "first world" wouldn't come to Mexico to scam people but, on the other hand, xenophobia does exist in any part of the world and sometimes said foreigners are targeted on the suspicions they are up to no good as I wrote here.
Still, what actual information is out there about people (quite possibly innocent) getting into trouble down here for using a fake bill in Mexico specifically?
Legal Issues with Fake Bills in Mexico
Right away, I found this article here.
"El caso de Esperanza Reyes, quien estuvo en prisión 34 meses por circular un billete falso de 100 pesos y ayer fue preliberada por la Secretaría de Gobernación, es un ejemplo de otros casos en el país: la PGR reconoce que existen 196 juicios concluidos o en proceso similares al de la mujer, de los cuáles 20 están en prisión por pagar tan sólo con un billete falsificado.
Información del Banco de México muestra que la circulación de papel moneda falsa va en aumento. Al menos en 2013, se estima que circularon 90 millones de billetes falsos. El repunte inició en 2008. Entre 2011 y 2012, el fenómeno creció 17 por ciento, y de 2012 a 2013 se calcula que aumentó 20 por ciento.
De los juicios concluidos o cerrados por este delito, en 176 casos las personas intentaron distribuir más de tres billetes apócrifos. La pena por este delito es de cinco años de prisión y una multa económica."
To summarize the main points for those who don't speak Spanish:
- There was a chick named Esperanza Reyes that was put in prison for 34 months for using a 100 peso bill (5 bucks). She was later released.
- There are 196 trials that were concluded or currently in process for similar crimes related to fake bills but 20 of those 196 cases involve someone only trying to buy something with a fake bill.
- Of those who are being or were prosecuted for this crime, 176 of them tried to distribute more than 3 fake bills.
- The Bank of Mexico says there was a rise in counterfeit bills around 2013 with 90 million fake bills in circulation.
- The punishment for this crime is 5 years in prison and a fine.
The article also gives some other examples of people being prosecuted for this, including some random dude who tried using a fake 500 bill in a tianguis (street market) and they called the cops on him.
Going back to that woman though known as Esperanza Reyes, her case became a national story years ago due to the perception many had that it was unfair that she was being prosecuted.
The idea being that she probably didn't know it was fake and that something similar could happen to any of us technically given all of the fake currency out there.
More on her story here.
Anyway, let's get to some tips for what you should do if you got a fake bill.
Tips on Handling Fake Currency in Mexico
Let's at least try to be a little bit helpful here for those who encounter this situation.
First, if you suspect a bill is fake but are not sure, you can always take it to a bank to have them look at it. They'll know and, from what I've read online, seemingly they might send it to a better expert and get back to you if they can't tell in the moment if it's a fake or real.
More on that process of taking it to a bank here.
Second, try learning the signs it is fake or not. I included an English language source here on spotting the differences for if it is fake or not here.
Here's also a video in Spanish for identifying the signs.
Third, do know that sometimes a local could be bullshitting you on if it is fake or not.
As you can see in this example here from Argentina, it is a scam at least in that country for the taxi driver to pull out a fake bill when you aren't paying attention and claiming that is the one you gave him to scare you and get more money out of you.
I'm sure the scam exists in other countries also.
So just watch their hands when giving them a bill and, if you are dealing with larger bills, count out the money you are giving them little by little so they don't turn around and claim you gave them less than you did as I wrote here.
Fourth, if the local who you give the bill to wants to begin punching you, should you punch him back?
Sure. Defend yourself. Would be a funny sight to see but I guess not so funny if you are in a street market in some poor neighborhood and the other vendors decide to gangrape you.
That would be unpleasant.
Fifth, try to deescalate the situation though obviously if you are being accused of this crime. Say you didn't know. Pull your "clueless foreigner" card where you aren't from here and this is all just one big misunderstanding.
Sixth, if the cops are called, I guess you better know the number of the US Embassy. Maybe they could help? Who knows.
Seventh, if the cops do show up, you might be able to bribe yourself out of it.
Not every country is friendly to bribes though. I heard Chile is less accepting of it than say Mexico.
And you shouldn't say "can I bribe you?" But do try to see if you can somehow find "a solution" to the problem and be cordial. Don't be an ass even though it's not your fault and you might get mad at the locals for trying to fuck with you.
Eighth, what should you do with the bill when you have verified that it is fake?
Well, you do have people who lack morals that always try to sell it to someone who buys fake bills as those people exist in Mexico as you can see here.
"En una página de Facebook una publicación ofreció en la ciudad de Chihuahua "billetes clones de excelente calidad", mediante pedido telefónico
En un grupo cerrado de Facebook un usuario de nombre "Alessandra Martínez", ofrece dinero falso "de excelente calidad", que puede enviar a domicilio por paquetería, previo pago mediante transferencia bancaria."
I'm not encouraging you do that though. I'm just informing you that this does happen.
And if you know the bill is fake and still have it after being told it is fake, you can try to get a second opinion to verify it is but, once you know it is fake, I'd say you should take it out of circulation.
You are doing someone a favor by doing so.
Even though you individually cannot take every fake bill out of circulation, you don't want to pass off a fake bill to a poor dude who accepts.
Eventually, it'll fuck someone else over. While they are not statistically likely to go to jail as you saw the numbers, it will be a bite out of someone's monthly budget (be it a bite big or small).
To you as a foreigner earning USD especially or to a local with a good job, losing out on 10 or even 25 bucks might be annoying but won't break the bank.
To a poorer local though with a budget of 275 to 400 bucks a month, that does make a difference.
So just tear it up like I did as it won't land on someone else.
Ninth, should you go after the person who gave you the fake bill?
They might've known.
The lady behind the counter asked me repeatedly "who gave you this? Do you have their contact info?"
As to imply perhaps that I should go after them?
Maybe the bill was so obviously fake that they should have known.
Though, to me, it didn't seem THAT obvious.
Still, I have my doubts I could've done anything. It was only 10 bucks and I actually did buy from that michelada guy several times before that fake bill and was never seemingly given any fake bills on those other occasions.
If you do wish to pursue it though, you'd have to reach out to an agency known as CONDUSEF from what I understand.
Their number is 01 800 999 8080. Their Twitter can be found here and their Facebook can be found here.
They also have a website here.
You also have some agency called PROFECO that is supposed to protect consumers and you can find their website here.
The Twitter for PROFECO is here and the Facebook for them is here.
The numbers for PROFECO are 55 5568 8722 and 800 468 8722
I don't know if you could go to them as I was told you'd go to CONDUSEFF for this matter but I'm just throwing PROFECO out there because I have seen Mexicans threaten to go to them when they feel a business fucked them over.
At any rate, if you really wanted to, I suppose you could escalate matters with the people who gave you the fake bill.
Tell them they gave you a fake bill and will denounce them to the right agencies and on social media if they don't fix the issue.
Again, I don't have high hopes that would work as I'm too used to seeing shit not work properly in Mexico and I could also see them saying "prove it was the bill we gave you."
After all, it's your side vs. them once the transaction is made and over with.
"How do we know you didn't go home, pick up a fake bill you had around and claim that was the one we gave you?"
So who knows.
You can try your luck escalating the matter to those who gave you the fake bill if you wish. I chose to just drop it because it's only 10 bucks and I doubted they would fix it.
Tenth, above all, don't worry about it too much anyhow.
Like I said, it's very unlikely you'll go to jail or face any consequences for unintentionally using a fake bill.
If it happens, it happens.
They simply won't accept the bill and you'll have to pay with something else like I showed with my situation where I grabbed another 200 bill to pay for that brandy.
Anything to Add?
That's all I got for now.
Above all, it's not likely anything is ever going to happen to you if you get caught using a fake bill unintentionally.
They are so common down here that, as I was told on Twitter, sometimes even ATM machines give you fake bills supposedly (at least in Colombia).
In Mexico too? I never heard of that but it wouldn't surprise me if it has happened to someone given how many fake bills are out there.
All I can say is to follow the tips mentioned before and be chill about it.
Though if you do get unfairly prosecuted and thrown in jail for unintentionally using a fake bill, I guess you can enjoy your time in prison listening to this song here.
Fruko y Sus Tesos -- El Preso
If you got anything to add, drop a comment below.
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Thanks for reading.