When the paper-based $100 bill was demonetised three months ago, National Security Minister Stuart Young claimed the features of the new polymer $100 bill that replaced it would be much harder to counterfeit.
But a wholesale vendor at the Central Market in Port-of-Spain is now warning the public that scammers have produced a close replica to the bill after he was paid with a counterfeit $100 note on Saturday night.
The man, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, said the counterfeit bill is so close to the real polymer $100 bill that the average person would be scammed by its appearance.
In December last year, the Government announced that the paper-based $100 bill was being taken out of circulation as it was being too easily counterfeited and also used for money laundering.
The new polymer bill was to make this process too hard for the scammers and came with a suite of security features, including a transparent window with the 100 denomination in the top left-hand corner and the letter ‘X’ in braille on the bottom right-hand corner.
The counterfeit note, which the vendor gave to Guardian Media as proof of his claim, also has replicas of a transparent window and an X in braille on the bottom.
The most obvious difference between the two bills (real and fake), however, is that the counterfeit one seems more glossy and the transparent window is not as clear as the original and only one line of the X in Braille is properly perforated. The coat of arms is also smaller on the counterfeit bill, which is also darker in hue than the original.
Throughout the day, as the bill was passed around in the Guardian Media newsroom, the print on it began to flake and come off, leaving blank white areas beneath it.
The vendor said the bill was among a wad of real polymer bills and in his haste to do business in the busy wholesale market, he looked only for the transparent window to ensure the bill was real.
“People buy goods all the time, people pass a couple $100 bills, like $500 or $1,000. But when you are checking in the night you are not seeing it. When we came home and we were counting the cash, that’s when we saw it,” the vendor said.
He said he plans to take the bill back to the Central Market to show to other vendors so they will not fall victims to the scammers who passed it off on him.
“I think people need to see it for themselves because a lot of people didn’t get used to the new one yet and it (the counterfeit) is easy to pass in the night when you in a rush and trying to sell your goods,” he said.
He said he came to the media as he preferred to make the issue public rather than hand over the counterfeit bill to a bank, as he said he was sceptical about bankers ‘sweeping it under the rug.’
“They might just take it and no one would ever hear about it and we are the ones who are getting it.”
Guardian Media reached out to Minister Young yesterday, providing him with a video of the counterfeit bill alongside a real bill via a WhatsApp video message.
Young responded, “I am certain that the counterfeit bill is not printed on polymer. This is the first telltale sign. It is expected that persons will attempt to counterfeit money. Persons counterfeit US$100 bills.”
He said, however, that the public needs to familiarise themselves with the bill – which he said has the contextual feature of being made of polymer, along with its other security features.
Guardian Media also reached out to the TT Police Service. The TTPS said its Fraud Squad had no recent reports of any counterfeit bills.
But chairman of the Bankers’ Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BATT) Inter Security Committee, Hayden De Four, told Guardian Media that news about counterfeit bills is not new.
“The fact that counterfeit bills are in circulation is not a new thing. If you recall the information came out early in December on social media,” De Four said when contacted.
He, however, declined to comment further on the bill, saying he would need to examine it in person to give an assessment. He said BATT often receives counterfeits that are both ‘good and bad’ but he referred other questions to the Central Bank.
Calls to the Central Bank went unanswered yesterday.