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Mao Problems: How to Tell if Your Money is Real or Fake

There's only one way to prevent a fistful of fake bills: shua ka (charge) everything. But until your local fruit vender accepts Unionpay, you're still going to have to deal with paper money from time to time. We've been hearing more stories lately about **expats getting stuck with phony money**—and not just from dodgy cabbies. There's been reports about people **getting counterfeits straight from the bank teller**. So how do you tell the real from the fake? Once you **know what to look for**, you'll wonder how some of these mock Maos even make it into circulation. We break it down for you.

##By Touch## One quick, solid method to determine a bill's authenticity is by rubbing your thumb over it. It's the preferred way of taxi drivers everywhere, especially when the lighting is poor. A fake bill will have an **overly smooth texture** and will lack several tell-tale rough patches as shown below in gray:

Also,** fake bills typically lack embossing** around the blue areas circled above.

##By Sight## This can be a little more difficult, especially with older bills. But the first thing you should do with a suspect bill is** hold it up to the light**.

Image from [Sina Finance](http://finance.sina.com.cn/money/bank/hd90jiachao/index.shtml)

You should see Mao's face pop up on the front left and 100 below on the front of the bill. You'll see a solid vertical line cutting down the bill. **High-quality fakes will pass** these tests, so there are a few more visual clues you can also check:

Navy blue detail: If you hold the bill in front of your face, you'll see a shiny green 100 on the bottom left of the bill. Lay it flat on a table, and it will change to a darker blue.** If it doesn't change, it's a fake**. Below, the top is real, the bottom is phony

Images from [Sina Finance](http://finance.sina.com.cn/money/bank/hd90jiachao/index.shtml)

Purple detail: Also, turn the bill lengthwise, front-side-up and tilt it in front of your face. You **should see a raised 100**. It's a pretty neat trick, but unfortunately, can be really hard to detect on older bills. The top is real, the bottom one fake.

Images from [Sina Finance](http://finance.sina.com.cn/money/bank/hd90jiachao/index.shtml)

Light blue detail:** This mark appears whole when held against the light**, the white gap will change to light blue from the front, red from the back. It's supposed to resemble ancient Chinese coinage, but sort of looks like the BOC symbol to us.

Green detail: Another subtle difference is the printing behind Mao's shoulders. If you look closely, it should have **a tiny RMB100 pattern** printed across the back.

And, if you have an ultraviolet light, you can apparently see a 100 pop up in the front middle.

##By Sound## Take the note into your hands, lightly bend it, then snap it (not too hard, though). The sound of real Mao money will be loud and crisp. **Fake money will tend to sound muffled**. You can also wave the bill around for much the same effect. Again, the real will sound loud and crisp, the fake extremely muffled.

##The Exception## You may notice a few bills that **seem fake, but actually aren't**. Those notes are **from 1999**, and look a bit different. Check the back of the note to see the year.

Orange detail: Notes dating back to 1999 lack this rough patch. Instead, it has a serial number (make sure it's the same number as the one printed on the bottom left).

Green detail: This area has the Chinese coin trick (see above) and the color-change trick. There's no watermark of the numeral 100 as in the 2005 version.

Yellow detail:** This becomes a solid line** when held up against the light with small white RMB 100s printed across. The **2005 version is a metallic dashed line** that becomes solid against the light, but with a number of tiny ¥100s printed all the way across visible with or without the light.

Purple detail: Again, the circle resembling a Chinese coin will be whole when viewed against the light. It's just in a different area on older bills.

##So You've Got a Fake?## There are some reports that if you discover a fake spat out from the ATM, you should** hold it up against the ATM camera with the serial number clearly visible** and immediately go into the bank and ask for a new one. We can't confirm this, however, and if you've successfully done it, please let us (and other readers) know. After all, you could very well just get your money confiscated at the bank counter instead and have them branded as fakes. And no, **they aren't obliged to replace anything**. Unfortunately, the best way to avoid fakes (besides using plastic) is to get money straight from the bank counter and check every bill you have for fakes right under the teller's nose. This will likely annoy anyone behind you, but hey, you've already been waiting for a long time anyway. Outside the bank, **never let anyone take your money out of your sight**. They may pull a fake switcheroo on you when out of sight, and you can't prove otherwise. And look on the bright side: the counterfeit money problem could be a lot worse. Can you imagine what would happen if you got a fake RMB500 or RMB1000 note?

Fake money makes Chairman Mao cry

How do you get rid of your fake money? Do you take it back to the bank, save it for posterity or fob it off on someone else? Share your stories down below: --- Image via [China Highlights](http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/money.htm)


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alextaggart's picture


Great post Lisa! I have a friend who runs a casual trade in spending other people's fake notes for them. He'll take your big reds and turn them into sweet blue, brown and green...for a 45 kuai service charge per note. While he won't reveal his methods, he's a luxury watch salesman, so I assume it's a combination of misdirection and flattery.
odnatakaya's picture


And now let me tell you my story how I managed not to finish up with swapping 200 hundred kuai for a one and fake. It happend in The House (miss this place at times, really!). I withdrew money from ATM and went for a party there. At some point I was getting a drink for my friend, the bartender took a hundred and disappeared only to come back in a min and say that I gave him a fake note. I was already reaching my wallet when it occured to me that he hadnt actually given the drink, he had taken money and returned. So I asked him how do I know if it wasnt him who swapped the money? I suggested we should call the manager and all together go for a movie recorded by the camera. At this point the bartender just vanished. And after 5-minute talk with the manager whom I found myself they kindly apologized and gave me a drink and change. So, really take this advice: do not leave your money unattended!
odnatakaya's picture


It is a great topic to discuss! Being given green light by my friend, I would like to tell you about her encounter with a fake hundred kuai about a month ago first. After leaving a bank (where she used ATM to withdraw some cash) she got in a cab and had a short ride (15 kuai on total). She handed one of the hundred notes she had just got from the ATM and was waiting for her change. After 2-minute shuffling around the driver turned to her with a note in his hand and pronounced it fake, thus refusing to take it. My friend is quite local by now (almost 11 years of living in Beijing after all), so she tried hard to defend herself, but we all know how it goes arguing with taxi drivers in Beijing. Being in hurry and no mood to go on, she just grabbed the note and left the taxi presumably without paying. About the note. My friend felt some scum behind all that and she closely inspected the paper. It looked pretty ok on the surface, but closer look revealed that it was a bit more different in colour (more orange than red) and the most important thing - it had a different face of Mao. Not the red one, but the invisible, the one you see in grey when you check it through light. Supposedly, the invisible grey Mao should be a copy of the red one, except that it was not. The red Mao was smiling on the note, but the grey one was not! It was a sad one, honestly. And that was so clear that it could make anyone laughing. That was a story of how the fake sad money found its way into my friend’s wallet. She was carrying it around for quite a while, trying to convert it into real through ATM (she still had a thought on the back of her mind that it might originate from there. But ATM spits out fake ones immediately, and hopefully does not dispense them as well) until after some drinks we decided that it was time to find Mao’s final destination. To make Mao happy we went to a tiny lousy bar in Sanlitun street (for understandable reasons I won’t mention its name), got a couple of fake alcohol drinks and handed that fake hundred with a poker face. The bartender did not even consider rubbing and folding it, he just shoved it in cash register and returned us 80 kuai back. Apparently, if you buy fake alcohol you can pay with fake money for it! So, enjoy the party, fake Mao.


I got at least 4 or 5 fakes from the BANK TELLER at Bank of China! I was getting out a lot of cash, so it wasn't really realistic to check them all at the counter. Oh well, at least I know what to look for now.


Great post, I got a fake bill from an ATM over the october Holiday. I pawned it off on a fruit seller (sorry fruit seller!). What are the best ways to get rid of fakes if you get one?
siennapc's picture


omg, are you kidding -- waiting in line at the bank every time you want to withdraw money? That's what all the 70+ year-olds in Beijing do, which is why you have to wait in line at the bank for an hour to do anything. It might be the only way to avoid fakes, but it's hardly a practical solution. I don't understand why the banks don't catch these fakes and take them out of circulation -- they always check my money when I go to the back to transfer my rent, so why are ATMs still giving people fakes? Seems like some people working in the bank might be counterfeiters themselves!
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