Counterfeit Money, Payrolls, and Banks

I received this e-mail from a reader recently:

I just read your piece on counterfeit money. I work for a school in a western province which paid me just before NY. About one third was counterfeit money which I’m having a tough time with, groceries to buy, transportation and so on; nobody wants to take my money and school isn’t back in for another month. My employer is out of the country and doesn’t return my emails. What to do with counterfeit money which he got from the bank himself?

I wasn’t sure how to answer this… My first thought was that the employer was lying, and he didn’t really get it from the bank. He might easily have bought a bunch of counterfeit bills himself, and cut all his employees’ paychecks (or maybe just certain ones’) with them to save money on his payroll.

That said, I live in Shanghai, and I’m not sure how things work in the “western provinces.” The banks themselves could be mixed up in counterfeiting as well. Does anyone have any experience? (中国朋友,不要害羞!写中文也可以。)


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. No point in accusing your boss or the bank for that matter. Just take the money straight to the police and report what happened. That is unless you boss is one in 1.3 billion and will be cool about the whole thing and replace your cash.

  2. I can definitively say that I have received counterfeit 100 RMB notes from Chinese ATMs on 3 separate occasions. All of which were from big 4 banks. Here’s a full post about it, if anybody is interested.

    From my experience with fake money, what I’ve learned is that you basically have to realize it is fake at the time of transaction. Otherwise the fake notes are now your problem, not that of the person who gave them to you.

    When this happens at the bank, (from what I have heard) what you have to do is stay at the ATM, and call the police. Don’t leave the ATM until the police arrive. That way the security cameras provide proof that you got your fake cash from the ATM in question, and didn’t just step aside and switch it out.

    As for getting counterfeit notes from your boss, it’s really a tough call. Assuming the boss if of good character, what probably happened is that they made a large withdrawal and happened to get stuck with a bunch of fake cash, and inadvertently passed it off to their employees. If the employer is more of the 坏蛋 variety, he will probably insist that the bills in question were not the ones given by him, whether he gave them knowingly or not. Unfortunately, in most situations the burden of proof lies on the one who is currently in possession of the cash. Best thing to do is always to catch counterfeit passers in the act. Otherwise, you’re stuck with the fakes.

  3. I’ve lived here in Xinjiang for the past three years (probably not the ‘west’ province he’s talking about, I realize) and the only time I’ve ever had problems with fake bills were some that I got in Guangzhou and brought back with me.

    I have a hard time believing that his boss is in on this primarily because if your school is anything like all the others I’ve seen (and where I personally work), the boss never directly handles your paycheck. He signs for it, he knows how much you get, but he never touches it. The financial office does. Either they are all in on some big conspiracy or those bills were fake before they reached the school’s hands.

    And unfortunately, as Ben much more eloquently pointed out…now that you have them, you’re screwed!

  4. hmm, I have to say it’s not rare to recieve counterfeit money here (Middle China) and I believe it’s the same in other parts of the country.

    But I should give my compassion to the reader. The boss should knowingly give him such amount of money for counterfeit money is far from widespread and nearly everyone knows how to tell real money from counterfeit one. He must be cheated.

    I have ever recieved a 50 yuan in high school, then I learned how to tell a fake one and never been cheated again. Using cards wouldn’t bring such problems.

    Now the worst part of the story is that someone got stuck with fake money from ATM, maybe I should take it after checking them or get the money from the counter (less likely to get fake money)

  5. I had no problems in 四川. This is the first time I hear of it.

  6. I make a point of checking my bills in front of the person giving them to me. Not to be a jerk, but I’m not really surprised to hear this news.

    As for the writer, I think these other posters are right. Once you got em, they’re tough to get rid of. Actually, I know quite a few Chinese people who carry fake bills just so then can teach others how to distinguish from a real note.

    Also, I would feel a little awful pawning it off on somebody else. It only makes the problem worse for everyone.

  7. You can have the boss run the bills through one of those money counters before you accept your salary. Those things are supposed to be able to pick fakes.

  8. I got a fake 50 from a major supermarket the other day. I didn’t know what to do with it, but my wife passed it on to some guy at the local veggie market who had given her a fake 100 a few weeks before.
    I’d say in this case the fakes were probably offloaded onto you by someone in the pay office, thinking that the foreigner wouldn’t know the difference…and somehow wouldn’t realize they came from the school. Then again, see if any of the finance staff have quit the company – swapping a roll of fakes for someone’s hard earned money probably seems like a good deal if they’re not coming back after new year.

  9. In the weeks leading up to Spring Festival this year, the media was buzzing with news that millions of yuan worth of counterfeit money had appeared, of a high enough quality to fool a lot of equipment that is meant to verify bills. These fakes were fooling a lot of banks, and so people were receiving the bills from banks and ATMs. As I recall, the first batch was 100s and had serial numbers starting with “HD”, but other batches of similar quality also appeared later.

    In a way, this is probably good news for the original reader, since it means he’s probably not alone. Has he contacted colleagues to see if they have had the same problem? (Although perhaps they only pay the foreign teachers in cash, and pay the other staff by bank transfer).

  10. Yes, I’ve had that happen, too, and I second the above commentators’ posts that unfortunately after the fact the onus of responsibility for the fake bills falls on you.

    I have, too, received fake bills from ATMs (I live in Guangdong.) I hope your school will help you out with this and perhaps replace some of the money.

  11. All’s well……the principal immed. replaced the funds for me; apologized for it ever happening; explained she got funds from ATM. We are to be paid from now on by autodeposit to bank acct. we set up for ourselves. She was totally caught off guard by this being new to China herself and unaware of the extent of this problem.
    The bank was very rude and threatening to her; accusing her of being a troublemaking foreigner when she took the bogus bills in for them to exchange for real money. Threatened to call the police because she was holding counterfeit though they were the ones who put it on the street ! Amazing how they can turn tables on you and think they’re in the right.

  12. Glad to hear that your problem is solved Bruce!

    I’m a 16-year-old Chinese from Henan province but have been living most of my life in Germany and Singapore. I only visit my hometown in China annually. I’ve only recently moved to Shanghai last August but have never encountered a problem with counterfeit money. (Partly because I check the bills I have when I have spare time :P) Hopefully such a problem won’t arise.

  13. ATMs in China can issue counterfeit money. Get money from an actual teller in the bank and check it before you walk away from the teller window.

    While traveling in China recently my friend received counterfeit money from an ATM (all the money that the ATM issued was counterfeit). It was suggested that he not carry much around in case he was mugged so later that evening he was only carrying the counterfeit money and some ID. When he tried to spend the money at a restaurant the police were called and (thankfully) with the help of his hotel interpreter managed to go to another ATM, to get money and pay for his meal. The police were not at all concerned about the counterfeit money, although they kept 400RMB (they even let him keep the remaining 100RMB), they were more concerned with making sure the restaurant got payed for their meal.

    Contacting the bank that owned the ATM got no traction other than acknowledging that he made a withdrawal from their ATM. His Australian bank claims that it is up to him to get the money from the bank in China that issued the money. Contacting that bank has been fruitless due to the language barrier and the fact that they don’t really care.

    At this point he is still chasing this up but I think he’ll be chalking this up to experience.

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