Argentina’s Fake Money Trail
Buenos Aires is home to an extensive counterfeit money ring that can fool even the savviest traveller. Scam City location researcher Leticia Meruvia takes us behind the scenes and tells how easy it is for even the pros to get tricked.
This is a GUEST POST by Scam City camera crew member LETICIA MERUVIA.
Buenos Aires is a charming city, with its wide avenues, imposing architecture, beautiful parks, world-famous steaks and frenzied nightlife clearly appealing to many tourists looking for a Latin adventure. However, while researching scams, we found out that this city is also known for many unpleasant experiences for the unsuspecting visitor.
We discovered that after the 2001 Argentine financial crisis, the amount of counterfeit money circulating in the streets of Buenos Aires has increased immensely and although the locals have now learned how to identify it, most of the tourists will never know the difference.
Because the local economy is largely cash-based, many places won’t take credit cards, pensioners withdraw all their wages monthly, and there’s a massive black market, as people will find many ways to avoid taxes.
This all means one thing: Buenos Aires a perfect place for scammers to profit with some homemade money.
All rigged up with hidden cameras, the crew, Conor and I started our journey following the fake money trail. We’d heard that taxis were a good start, but we didn’t think it would be so easy. Taking one to get to Costanera Sur, an area known for its many food stalls with delicious choripans—chorizo sandwiches that are popular street foods in Buenos Aires—Conor probably seemed like a good target with his poor Spanish-speaking skills. And that’s the first clue to spot a potential victim, we learned later.
As soon as Conor tried to buy something at the food stalls, he was told he had a fake note, which had been given to him as change from the cab ride. Tourists next to him immediately asked if he had taken a cab, as it had happened to them too. They were three kids from California, United States, and they started to explain to Conor how to identify a bad note. The easiest way was to check was to see if there was a real metal strip—not just some bits of silver printed.
Eventually we met more victims of counterfeit money, and even a woman who got a fake bill from an ATM machine! I started to get paranoid and every time I would withdraw production money, I’d check every note.
“Buenos Aires a perfect place for scammers to profit with some homemade money.”
Although the counterfeit bills trade makes a lot of people lose money, it never seemed to be a scary experience as other scams could be, like being drugged and robbed by a Black Widow, for example. This idea changed completely when we got the chance to meet a gang who actually produced these fake bills. They were wearing monster masks, had shotguns on them and, on top of having a table full of fake Argentine pesos, they were high on drugs and in doubt as to whether they could trust that we were not the police. We did a quick interview and escaped before they had time to change their minds!
We managed to get into this world and learn so much about the trade that we almost felt like experts. On the last day, there was only Mike (the director) and I left. As we had a last coffee at the airport just before boarding the plane, we got a fake note as change from the waiter. Wasn’t that a perfect moment? Just about to leave the country to only discover at the exchange house back in London. But no, this time we knew better and called him back to change the note for us.
By Leticia Meruvia, Location Researcher, Scam City
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