Foreign exchange counter – How to spot and avoid scams in Indonesia

Foreign exchange counter – How to spot and avoid scams in Indonesia

If there is one subject that I find annoying when I travel, it is the change of currency. I never know when to change, where to change, how much to change … and after that, especially when traveling in Asia I find myself with bundles of notes that I’m always afraid to lose (or to be robbed).

Well, talking about getting stolen money, sometimes the process begins even at the exchange counter.

How does it work?

Take the example of Canggu, where I spent a month last year. On the same street you can find more than 10 exchange offices at very variable rates. For sure, little clever that you are, you will opt for the rate closest to your currency to avoid losing a penny and  that will give you the feeling of having managed your change very well. But be careful!

Indeed, those who offer the most interesting rates compared to their neighbors are those who will steal you. How?

Well, it’s simple. I mean, rather complicated, because you must have an expert eye and above all, you must count. Count a lot.

You will first notice that the person speaks a lot, asks you where you come from, speaks a few words of French and gives notes of 50 000 instead of 100 000. Like that you easily get confused with the number of bank notes.

And then, in a burst of generosity, once you’ve counted all your notes with him and you’re ready to put them in your wallet, he’ll ask you to look if you have change to round up or to go eat at the restaurant without taking out all your bundles and stay safe (it’s really cool to think about our safety moooh). Well no!! It is there, at this precise moment, that you must be very vigilant because it is a trick of magic.

As you turn your attention away from your wallet for 3 seconds, he manages to get some bills from the bundles in front of you. Like that, without you realizing it. The guy took 400,000 IDR, which is a significant sum of money for Indonesian people. And for you too, who plays with your savings.

I confirm it, we have tried the experiment again to investigate their way of doing things and it is always the same story. They talk, they divert your attention one way or another “it’s good luck for my family,” they say, rubbing the money on their little temple.

But then what can you do?

 1. The scam has already been done

You will surely think that there is nothing to do. Well, first of all I advise you to always check after leaving the counter (at your hotel preferably) to recount your bank notes and check if it’s the exact amount- avoid taking out your bundles of notes in the street anyway -.

If this is not the case, return to the office and explain the problem. Play the game and do not get upset. Furious at being ripped off like a novice, I went back the next day explaining that something went wrong, he had inadvertently forgotten 400 000 IDR. The man first pretended not to understand the language while he spoke English very well the day before. Do not get upset. Do not hesitate to write on a paper, as if you were teaching a child to do 2 + 6. We were able to recover 200,000 IDR, without really negotiating. With hindsight, I know that we could have recovered all the money by insisting a little, then threatening to call the police or to make the bad publicity of his “agency” with our western friends.

I think we were so chocked of this scam and the ease of repairing that it surprised us!

2.The scam is on going

It is necessary to count. To count again. And still count. If you are two, one of you will take care not to leave the eyes of the person. Never. Ever. Even after that, you recount.

If you are alone, don’t hesitate to count again as long as the money does not go from YOUR hands to your wallet.

On the second scam, I counted the money 4 times. The man was sulking, that’s for sure. And for a good reason, he had tried to steal from me 50 000 IRD but I caught it. Even once the scam is fixed, do not hesitate to count again. By yourself, from your hands. Not him. Because he will try to steal the money again to confuse you or to attempt a final magic trick. But you are smarter. It’s your money and you know how to count. Master it, be vigilant. And leave with a smile, always.

I know it may seem a little rough, especially when you’re on holidays and you don’t want to have any worries but unfortunately this is commonplace in these countries and it has ruined some holidays.

And you, have you had such an experience before?

*2018 Update : We arrived few days ago and we realized that the ATM stole our money too…One withdrawal didn’t worked, but the money has been taken from the account. Check your accounts as soon as you withdraw money and contact your bank directly in case of problem. To avoid this problem, try to go to ATM where you see many people.

With love,

Laura & Flora

Note: all our articles are translated by us. We are still learning so please be indulgent :).  We wanted this website bilingual to share our adventures with everybody. Also, feel free to tell us our mistake to improve the quality of the article.

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