'Rock-solid' banknote scam foiled
You would have to be in a real hurry not to spot these fake banknotes - ones with the security features of Hong Kong notes, but instead of a city landmark they bear the image of three unfamiliar rocks.
The banknotes - genuine ones from Zimbabwe - had the name of a Hong Kong bank printed over them, police said in a warning to tourists and shopkeepers.
Chief Inspector Tommy Cheng Ka-wai, an expert in counterfeit notes with the commercial crime bureau, said police found similar banknotes from Uruguay and Myanmar, which were probably altered in an attempt to deceive visitors and shops.
'Anyone who is familiar with banknotes or has some general knowledge would know it is not a Hong Kong one when they see an image of three rocks,' he said.
Police had also found 10 old HK$10 banknotes that were overprinted as HK$500 notes. Visitors from the mainland or overseas probably brought them in, Cheng said.
'The shopkeepers who received the money could have been very busy and did not look [carefully]. Some tourists may not even know [they are handling fakes] when they fork out several thousand dollars in cash.' Police seized 109 genuine $1,000 notes from Zimbabwe printed with the name of Standard Chartered bank. Only a few such notes were seized in 2010, Cheng said, while two Myanmese banknotes and three from Uruguay were found last year.
But almost twice as many Hong Kong counterfeit banknotes were found last year as in 2010, Cheng said. The most common fake denomination is the HK$100 note.
'People may not pay attention to HK$100 notes, and it is easier to pass them off in [busy] places like wet markets,' Cheng said.
The rise in seizures and arrests was due to several operations last year in which 1,394 bogus notes were seized. Arrests rose to 28 from 12 the previous year. Police broke up two home-based syndicates manufacturing fake banknotes in July and October, arresting two people and confiscating 1,259 fake HK$100 notes.
Separately, police arrested a taxi driver and his girlfriend in October and found 135 fake banknotes, after three passengers complained of receiving counterfeit notes.
Many of the fakes were made on ink-jet printers at home and the quality was so poor that people could easily spot them.
However, on average only two counterfeit Hong Kong notes are found for every one million genuine notes.
Police seized 4,542 bogus renminbi banknotes last year - down 927 from the year before. Cheng said the drop was due to improved co-operation with mainland law enforcement agencies.
The number of fake Hong Kong notes seized last year, up 89.4 per cent year-on-year. A total of 1,806 fake HK$100 notes were seized