How to tell counterfeit money in China

Last month I got hit at the ATMs with a few fake notes, 100RMB notes, out of an ATM!  Back at work I told my colleague about the fake notes, her quick response was “Impossible, it can’t be from an ATM, you must got is somewhere else.”  The last time this happened I asked another colleague to take it to the bank to get a new one.  He was not a happy camper on his return “They made me fill out a report, and asked me many questions like ‘did you make this?’ ‘Where did you get this?’ ‘Which exact ATM?’ I don’t know which ATM! It took me 2 hours”.  Hew, good thing I didn’t go, image what they would say to an American showing up with fake money?  It might be an international incident.  So what did I do with the fake notes?  Naturally I persistently tried to spend them until someone finally took them, which can take a long time and a lot of the same note thrown back in your face.  But eventually some poor sucker accepts the bill, and all is right in the world again.

Below is a picture of 3 100RMB note.  Some are fake and some are real.  See if you can pick out which is fake.  The answer is on the bottom of of this post.

100RMB notes in China



Yeah, it seems a bit funny, but this is how in China you can get a fake note out of an ATM.  The bank workers are not paid well but they get the benefit of being around all that money all day long.  It does seem like a benefit until you start filling up the ATM machines with cash.  During this process, this guy has a really good job, the employee will slip in a few fake notes and take the real ones.  The most I have heard anyone get in one withdrawal was 700RMB.  That is noticeable and that guy might be caught.  In general they slip in maybe 1 note for every 500.  That’s how they get in there and how they end up occasionally in your withdrawal.  Most people withdraw, mix the money up with other money and totally forget where they withdrew the cash.  So even if you report it the average fake note receiver can’t even report where they got it.  Ah!!!

The usual process for me is I don’t even know I have a fake in my pocket.  Then one day I go to pay for lunch and the waitress looks at the bill and throws it back at me “fake!”.  So I pull out another note to pay for lunch with a new mass of onlookers staring at me with that face “Oh, the foreigner is making fake notes and trying to give it to the restaurant!  That’s what they do”.  But immediately after lunch I am outside trying to buy a bottle of water “Sorry no change” I tell all the shops (water costs 1.5RMB), unless the fake is really bad it usually it accepted within 10 to 20 tries.  If it’s bad that note just became a 100RMB souvenir.  And if you want to be nice and do something about it good luck!  When you report it to the bank, they seize it, you fill in a report and that’s it.  No money in return, just a thank you.  The only way you will recoup this is by spending it.

So, how to tell if a note is fake?  That was my first question I asked the first waitress that threw the bill back in my face and she so graciously taught me how to spot a fake.

Step one, feel the MaoZeDong coat!

RMB coat Pic

The picture on the note is slightly raised and if you rub your nail against it you can feel the texture.  It’s clear usually right away feeling this.  But who knows, it might be an old bill, genuine, just beat up from many rides in the washing machine, so we move on to the “waitress fake money test stage 2 – Check for the 100 emblem”.


If you put the bill up at an angle to the light you will see a 100 emblem shining back.  Once anyone sees this they will instantly confirm this is real, unless the bill just looks really fake.  Now the common response I have experienced if this is not present is an instant scream to alert the surrounding, crowd, neighbors and anyone in the region “Fake!” they will scream while throwing the note back at you usually in the direction of your face or the floor.  Now you have a crowd gathered staring at a foreigner accused of having fake money, there is only one more test left to see and it might just work, the water mark.

All bills have a watermark of MaoZeDong’s face in the bill.  If the bill is real then the watermark will be clear and crisp.  If the watermark is all goofy and distorted, sorry, you’re out of options and that sucker is clearly fake.  Suck it up, it’s going to be hard to dish this one off at any store.

100RMB watermark

For most cases fake bills come in the forms of 100s and 50s with 50s being the most common.  50s are in the system because they are checked much less than 100s and are given as change in shops, taxis and everywhere.  100s on the other hand only come from an ATM, bank or employer, so they can be tracked.  The same rules apply for the 50 to check if it’s real.


Suggested joke to use with locals in China and friends:  When you get change and they give you a 10 hold it up to the light to check if you can see if it has the 10 emblem and then look at the shop keeper and say “Zhen De” meaning “It’s real”.  They will usually laugh like crazy.

Thought of the Article: Fake bills do suck but what is more interesting is that waitresses and shop keepers are like human money counterfeit money checking machines.  The process I described above all happens within a fraction of a second and before you know what happened theirs a bill in your face.  Very well trained.

Any experience with this?  How did you handle it?  Share your thoughts.

Answer – Only the top one is real.


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