Kuta – Bali – Indonesia – Money Changer SCAM

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AUGUST 2015:


If you are going to Kuta, Bali, Indonesia and expect to change money, BEWARE and read on…

This is, most probably, NOT CONFINED TO KUTA. This could be happening all over the island – and, maybe, further field.


I remember back in 1989, when I first went to Bali, changing some money at a Money Changer in Candidasar. I caught the girl behind the counter ‘flicking’ some of my notes under the counter as she was counting them. When I counted what she gave me I was about 5-10% short. When challenged, she ‘discovered’ the notes that she had ‘dropped’ on the floor.

Since then, I have always been a bit wary of street money changers.


In Kuta you will find ‘Authorised’ Street Money Changers everywhere. Some of them offering better rates than the banks.

Because I cut TRACC Pom Pom Island short by 1 week, I had about MYR1,712 left over from Borneo that I needed to change to IDR (I am unlikely to be back in Malaysia for many years).

This is over IDR6,000,000 / NZ$700 / US$460 / €425 / £300.


I walked into the first Money Changer that was offering a good rate of MYR1 = IDR3699. I should get IDR6,332,000.

He counted my MYR1,712 notes and we put them aside.

He proceeded to count out IDR1,000,000 in IDR50,000 notes. He hands the first batch to me and I confirm that it is IDR1m. We do the same 5 more times creating 6 piles of notes.

He then counts out IDR300,000. I confirm that it is IDR300,000 and we create a 7th pile.

Throughout the whole process, I watched him carefully and made sure that he didn’t touch any of the piles of notes already counted.

This is where the SCAM comes in…

He says that he doesn’t have the IDR32,000 in change and gives me an IDR50,000 note and asks if I have IDR18,000 in change. I open my wallet and pull out IDR18,000. The IDR50,000 note gets added to the pile.

All done! Right?


Whilst I was getting his change, he touched the piles of notes and put them together into one big ‘wad’.

I say to him that I want to do one final count. I take the wad of notes and count only IDR4m. IDR2m HAS GONE MISSING!

He takes the wad back from me and counts again himself… one pile of IDR1m followed by another… until there were 6 piles of IDR1m again.

I take each pile one-by-one and recount. As I confirm the count, I put the pile down and cover it with my smartphone so that no-one can touch it. Each time that I verify a IDR1m pile, I lift up my smartphone, add it to what is underneath, and put back the smartphone.

He panics and refuses to leave any of the money alone. He says that he is ‘confused’ and wants to recount. In the end he tells me that he doesn’t want to continue with the transaction and that I should go somewhere else.

I take back my MYR1,712 and recount. It is all there.

I walk away (but forget to ask for my IDR18,000 back).


I knew that the first guy had tried to cheat me, but I didn’t know how he had done it. I watched him very carefully but still missed it…

I made sure that, this time, I gave what was going on my complete attention… I was going to catch them in the act…

I say ‘them’ for a reason; they work as a pair.

The second Money Changer counts my MYR1,712 and, whilst doing so, his hands (and my money) slowly disappear under his side of the counter. Alarm bells went off in my head. I was concerned that he may try and change my good notes for some bad ones hidden behind the counter.

I asked him two or three times to lift his hands up over the counter, He didn’t comply. In the end I assertively took his hands and put them back on top of the counter myself.

From this Money Changer forwards, I made sure that all money stayed visible.

We go through the same process… he counts IDR1m in IDR50,000s and asks me to check it. We check each IDR1m one by one and create a pile for each.

I started to lay each IDR1m over the other at right angles – building up the IDR6m wad. He didn’t like it and kept taking my pile apart again and laying them out in separate piles. I didn’t think much of it at the time but, later, I realised why…

We do the same for the IDR300,000. We get to the IDR32,000… guess what… he doesn’t have change… can I change an IDR50,000?

This is where they do the SCAM.

I have to take my eyes off of the money on the counter to look inside my wallet to get their change. Whilst I’m doing that, they swipe a couple of piles and consolidate the rest into a big wad.

This is why they insist on creating a separate pile for each IDR1m. By doing this, you cannot see how high the wad is getting. Therefore, when they take away IDR1m or IDR2m, you don’t notice anything getting smaller… the opposite happens… by consolidating 4 of the IDR1m piles, the wad looks significantly bigger (and you think that it is all there).

I had them sussed. I gave them no change and insisted that we do a recount.

When they knew that I had sussed them out, they refused to proceed with the transaction.


I decided to go to a few more Money Changers to see if any of them were legitimate. I must have gone to at least 20. I had nothing else to do that day. 🙂

When they could see that I was covering each IDR1m pile with something and insisting that they did not touch the ‘agreed’ pile again, they knew that their SCAM was falling apart.

When all of the money was on the counter and I told them not to worry about the final IDR32,000 (so there was no need for change), you could see them panic… they didn’t know what to do next.

The second person would often try and distract me at the last minute with a question or a calculator double checking the amount – anything to distract me and get me eyes away from the counter…

In the end, half of them just refused to proceed with the transaction and the other half decided that I had to pay ‘20% commission’ – even though we agreed ‘no commission’ when I first approached them about the transaction.

Not one of the 20 Money Changers that I went to were honest. Not one of them was prepared to complete the transaction.


I decided to try another approach.

I gave the Money Changer my MYR1,712 to count. When they were happy that my money was good and all there, I put the money aside and covered my bills with the empty wallet that I had brought them in.

When the Money Changer counted out his piles of IDR1m and asked me to count and verify each one, I said no. I told them to count out the whole sum, verify that sum, and hand the whole IDR6,332,000 to me when they were happy that everything was right.

I said that I would then count it myself and, if I agreed that it was all there, we were finished.

None of the Money Changers knew how to handle this and all of them abandoned the transaction before all of the IDR6m had hit the counter.

The SCAM relies on the fact that you are constantly being distracted.


I had my fun with them all and decided to call it a day. I would love to know who ‘authorised’ them to be money changers… themselves?

I went to one of the proper Money Changers (you know, one of the ones that actually have a proper building and LED rates flashing across a screen).

I got a rate of MYR1 = IDR3475 but they only took MYR100 and MYR50 notes.


These street Money Changers are everywhere – in every 10th shop!

I would suggest that almost all of them are running this SCAM.

I would also suggest that there are so many of them because they are all doing so well from the SCAM.

 That is why they are always shouting out to you ‘money change!’, ‘money change!”… it is so profitable for them… they only need one mug per month and they have earned more than the average wage!

I wonder how many tourists have got home at the end of the day wondering where all of their money has gone…

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