Bad Money

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If there’s one thing that can get people riled in Hong Kong, it’s money. Recently, it’s been bad money. Fake $1,000 HK bills (worth about $128 US) have been showing up around town, and retailers and consumers are spooked. I have managed to remain calm, mainly because the “gold bull,” as the yellow note is known here, rarely makes its way into my wallet.

As of today, 1,109 of the counterfeits have been found, and 12 people have been arrested. The number of fakes will most likely rise, but thus far they are a tiny fraction of the 87 million real $1,000 notes out there. So why are shops refusing to take $1,000 bills, and callers flooding the government’s hotline? My guess is that most people here have been passed a bad note at some time in neighboring Guangdong, and have developed a healthy fear of counterfeit currency. The province is the center for fake money production in China, and authorities there are worried about its effect on “the province’s financial organizations and social stability.” I’ve been given counterfeit bills there, and my mom got one while visiting earlier this month. In Guangzhou last year a colleague witnessed a group of beggars chase a foreigner who tried to pass off a fake to one of them. Nobody likes to be duped.