By Daniel Charvat & Marcelle Liron
Pic: Desiree Schirlinger
Is the money in one’s pocket always valuable? The current predicament sweeping across Rhodes campus and most of the country would suggest otherwise. Fake R5 coins are being mass produced and distributed far and wide. Our trusty Kaif has fallen victim to this monetary scam which, more often than not, involves oblivious students taking part in this criminal activity. Since we come to trust all our money as legal tender, we often remain unaware of the fact that our wallets could actually be filled with counterfeit money.
Mcebisi Heleni, a Kaif employee for two years, explained how cashiers are able to test whether the coins received from customers are authentic by using an everyday magnet. On average, the Kaif receives twenty fake R5 coins a day, this compared to the Block House’s average of five a week. According to Glenys Driver, a Blockhouse employee, it is not always possible to check every R5, as sometimes the shop is simply too busy. The coins are of no value, she explained, saying, “Banks don’t accept them so it is your loss if you try to cash them”. This results in businesses distributing them into the hands of their workers who simply re-circulate them in establishments where investigation is less vigilant. This recirculation of counterfeit money may seem only a little controversial, but when it comes to poorer communities especially, losing R5 instantly because you find out it’s fake is not something to laugh about.
FNB confirmed that counterfeit money cannot be exchanged, and therefore precautions need to be taken when accepting and exchanging money. A clerk from the bank said that if one cannot tell the difference between a ‘real’ and ‘fake’ coin, the magnet test is a sure fire way to tell. She said that a fake R5 can actually stick to a magnet, but that the difference is the way in which it is attracted. A genuine coin will be attracted uniformally, the entire face of the coin will stick to the magnet. Fake coins are attracted at the edges, resulting in a ‘hanging’ effect. Other obvious signs to look for in the coins are a discoloured ‘coppery’ surface as well as the weight being significantly lighter than a genuine coin.
Surprisingly though, the problem has not had an overly devastating effect on the country. In 2004, the Reserve Bank reported that R5 coins in circulation had a value of more than R570-million, and the value of the forged coins was merely a drop in the ocean. Nevertheless, the initiation of the new R5 coin in that same year was a step towards preventing the coin being forged. To date, the new ‘bi-metal’ R5 coin has not yet been successfully forged.
The production and circulation of counterfeit money is not a new phenomenon, yet a recent spike in its circulation has raised concerns for local businesses. The Kaif is one example, and Pick ‘n’ Pay has started receiving e-mails from its head office, warning them to start being more vigilant in the acceptance of money.
Criminal as it may be, the only real solution for those of us who find ourselves in possession of counterfeit money is to simply re-circulate it into the system quietly and carry on living our lives. Money seems to grow on trees for those who have learnt to evade the system, as for the rest of us – ignorance is bliss.