Magician money changers

If you've seen card tricks, you know that cards can "disappear" and "reappear" without you noticing. Money changers in Bali put those tricks to use with money. I went to a money changer that is just outside my hotel.

Here's the picture of the money changer. I know it looks dodgy but all the money changers there look like that.

I wanted to change SGD350. I passed the money to the money changer while I was standing by the side of the table. He asked me to go round to stand in front of the table. After I did that, he counted the money while standing on the other side of the table. He counted SGD300. He showed me that there was only SGD300. I insisted that I gave him SGD350. He re-counted and there was SGD350.

At the exchange rate of 7395, I should be getting IDR2,588,250.

Next, he called his friend to stand beside him. He counted the first stack of 40 pieces of 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) notes worth IDR2,000,000 and passed them to me. I counted the notes. His friend told me to put the notes on the table so I did. The money changer counted the next stack of notes and passed them to me. I counted them as IDR490,000 but the total did not add up. I was missing IDR100,000 = SGD14. I told him it was wrong.

He gathered the 50,000 stack of notes with both (and I saw him put away a portion of the notes with one hand) and asked me to re-count the first stack. I did that and I found it was missing a few pieces of the 50,000 notes. I handed it back to him and asked him to re-count. He re-counted and added on a few extra notes, then handed it to me.

I counted the stack. While counting, he kept asking me how many is in each stack. I told him to keep quiet because I was counting. He persisted and kept asking me but I didn't answer him. I placed each stack on the table after counting. His friend tried to touch the stack that I counted. I told him not to touch it. When I had finished counting, I told him the amount was correct. Quickly, he gathered everything together with both hands into a neat stack, as if helping me to tidy things up, and handed it back to me. The pile seemed thinner than when he passed it to me at first. I know that as long as somebody touches the money, I have to count it again. The amount was wrong. I handed the whole stack back and told him to count it. He changed some of the notes and them handed the stack to me.

This time, after counting each set of notes I placed each set on top of the other, in alternating stacks at 90 degrees to the other stack, under my handphone and pinned the handphone with my wrist so that they won't touch the money again. The money changer and his friend kept telling me to put it on the table. When I refused, they tried to take the money from under my handphone several times. I told them not to touch it. The amount was correct. I told them that it was correct and wanted to take that was under my wrist. Now, both of them put their hand on the part of the money that was sticking out from under the phone.

Unlike the end of the previous correct count when the he was glad to let me leave after gathering the notes together and handing the stack to me, this time he did not want me to leave with the money. I knew that I had finally gotten the right amount. But because there were many notes, I couldn't grab the stack without risking the money dropping all around.

He said he wanted to help me count it again. I said he had already counted passing it to me and it was correct so there was no need for him to re-count.

Then he said he forgot to minus "5% tax". I said there's no such thing as 5% tax on money exchange. I refused and said we already agreed on the rate just now. Finally he said he didn't want to change money anymore. He told me to take my SGD350 back, nodding his head in the direction of the SGD that was on the table, without removing his hand from my stack of IDR. I was worried that he might have swapped the notes with fake ones. It didn't seem like I was going to be able to get away with the IDR so I checked the notes. It appeared to be correct: 6 $50 and 5 $10 notes, the $50 have no folds because I rolled them and the $10 note have a fold down the middle, though I couldn't be 100% sure they were my genuine notes.

That was how it ended. What a waste of time! I'm just glad I wasn't lazy to re-count otherwise I would have gotten cheated!

Some of my friends said they don't ever change money when overseas. I always change money overseas but this is the first time I encounter cheats. The money changer was:
1. banking on tourists being confused with their currency (that's why they gave me small notes),
2. trying to distract and confuse me by continuously asking me how much was in this stack, that stack
3. hoping that I would not re-count the money after he gathers it together and hands it back to me.
4. using friend behind the counter was probably to hide money if needed or teaching him how to perform the magic trick.

As a rule of thumb, always re-count the money before leaving the counter if somebody has touched it.


Anonymous said...

I have come across this sort of thing too.

The way to beat this is never hand the whole bundle of money to him to count.

Lay each note infront of him and both of you count the note and agree on the amount, and repeat the whole process tally up the total as you go.

If he says that is NOT convinient for him, STOP doing business with him IMMEDIATELY and go to a different money changer!

Their hands are faster than your eyes when they count your money. So if anyone try to count your money in a VERY FAST fashion, shout STOP, get your bundle of money back IMMEDIATELY, recount your money makeing sure nothing has lost and go to a different money changer.

It is the ones who COUNT YOUR MONEY VERY QUICKLY that are realy fishy!

David said...


So money changers are not certified or bonded by any government agency!

The changer you describe does sound unstrust worthy and one who would cheat an unprepared individual of quite a bit of money.

Good lesson for all!!

Traveler be aware!


Anonymous said...


I was also cheated by one of the money changers in Bali many years ago. But I was still 'happy'. After the cheat the rate was still better as the official rate at the airport or bank.

In most other Asian countries I never had any problems as in most countries the money changers are licensed.