Anywhere you go in the world there is someone trying to make money off the good will and inexperience of others. Sometimes this takes the form of corrupt officials asking you to pay an unexpected “foreigner tax” or a taxi driver charging a traveler an extra few bucks for a trip across town. Every sojourner has experienced some form of this.
One of the most common ways for visitors to get swindled when they arrive in a new country is by means of fake currency. The nefarious types of the world prey on tourists who don’t know what real bills and coins should look like. But luckily for you, we at Latin America For Less, have a few tips to help you avoid accepting fake banknotes in Peru.
The Peruvian currency is known as the Nuevol Sol. It’s been around since 1991, and since its introduction the bills have been redesigned to prevent falsification. However, Peru is one of the best countries at producing fake currency, so it pays to know what to look for.
Peruvian money comes in a number of values and colors. The largest banknote in circulation is worth S/. 200, followed by S/. 100, S/. 50, S/. 20/ and S/.10 denominations. The S/. 100 is the most frequently used for currency exchange purchases.
Similarly, the Nuevo Sol comes in coin values of 5, 1, .50, .20, and .10. Smaller coins (.05 and .01) do exist but are rarely used. Instead, it’s common for prices to be round up or down.
Though Peru uses some of the most advanced international security features, like watermarks, micro lettering, reflective stripes, security thread, etc. fakes are still out there. To help prevent fraud, the Peruvian Central Banks launched a simple and effective campaign to teach its citizens how to spot fakes. These methods for catching counterfeits work for all banknotes, regardless of value. It’s as true for a S/. 10 bill as it is for a S/. 200 note.
Peruvian money doesn’t feel like normal paper, that’s because it s printed on 100% cotton. The cotton gives the banknote a noticeably different texture and also makes it more resistance than ordinary printer paper.
When handling a Peruvian banknote you should feel be able to feel the details of the printed images on the bills. Try passing your fingers over certain areas of the bill. On the old Peruvian Nuevo Sol banknotes this feature can be felt at the printed name of the Central Reserve Bank and the National Emblem. The new bills have raised details printed at the left and right of the head.
Be mindful that older bills will be more worn and therefore more difficult to identify using the “feel” technique alone.
Look is probably the most effective technique. Start by holding the bill up to a light source. The area free of prints should feature a watermark. This is a basic security feature that most currencies worldwide possess and the Peruvian Nuevo Sol is no exception.
The watermark shows the image of the person whose face adorns that denomination. The watermark has multi-color and three-dimensional features giving you the impression of two (on the new bills three) distinct areas. Additionally, the watermark is formed by different thicknesses in the paper so it appears sharp and clear. On fake banknotes the watermark is printed on and tends to looks blurry.
The next visible security feature is the visible security stripe. If you hold any old Nuevo Sol banknote up to a light source you can read the word “Peru” on the security stripe. This feature is only visible on the new S/. 10, S/. 20 and S/. 50 bills.
The next security feature requires you to tilt your bill slightly. Hold the banknote horizontally in front of your eyes and move it up and down slowly. The denomination value (in the middle of old Peruvian Nuevo Sol bills and to the left of the image on the new bills) is printed with special ink (optical variable in) that changes color when slightly turned.
On new Peruvian Nuevo Sol bills you’ll see a hidden number and only on the new S/. 100 and S/. 200 bills moving fish when tilting.
It’s common to see people on the street verifying that the money they receive is in fact real, so don’t think you’ll look strange if you take the time to inspect your currency. Everywhere in Peru shopkeepers confiscate counterfeit bills and destroy them on the spot. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
One last thing, don’t be afraid to ask the person at the currency exchange house or the moneychanger on the street to replace a bill that you find suspicious. On the same note, don’t hesitate to ask for a different bill if a salesperson gives you an odd banknote. Be sure to ask for a different bill before you leave the establishment, other wise, they likely won’t exchange your money.
Diego is a Colombian-American who was raised in Morristown, NJ. He started writing short fiction when he was a teenager and has pursued creative writing as a hobby ever since. After working for multiple publications in the U.S., he moved to Peru in January 2012. Since then he’s lived and worked in Trujillo, Cusco and Lima.