Indonesia Expat
Scams in the City

Dirty Money

When buying votes or buying sex, some people resort to using counterfeit cash. Results can be fatal.

The precise amount of counterfeit money in circulation in Indonesia is difficult to gauge, but police and central bank officials have been warning that bogus rupiah and dollars are more likely to circulate during elections.

On December 9, Indonesia held provincial, district and mayoral elections across nine provinces and 266 regencies and cities. Further local elections will be held in 2017 and 2018. Vote-buying has long been a feature of such elections, with some unscrupulous candidates providing cash in the hope of being elected. The amount may be just Rp.50,000 in an envelope, handed over early on the morning of the election.

At a larger level, Jakarta gubernatorial candidate Agus Yudhoyono has denied that his campaign’s promise to give Rp.1 billion (US$74,550) to each of the capital city’s approximately 2,700 community units (RW) is vote-buying. At least Rp.2.7 trillion (US$201.2 million) would be required to fund the pledge. That’s about 4.3 percent of Jakarta’s 2016 budget of Rp.62.9 trillion (US$4.69 billion).

In recent weeks, Bank Indonesia (BI) representatives in Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Papua and Maluku all warned that counterfeit circulation would increase around elections. They urged people to be wary of fakes and to avoid conducting transactions in dim light. Rejecting “money politics” would also help people to avoid ending up with bogus currency.

Simple forgers use basic colour printers, while more sophisticated operators are able to replicate security threads and watermarks.

BI Deputy Governor Ronald Waas in September said police had this year managed to bust two major counterfeit syndicates. A third syndicate was busted in the Central Java capital of Semarang in October. The gang’s leader was reported to be an inmate at Bali’s Kerobokan jail, where he is serving time for a similar case.

More recently two men were arrested in Aceh province for producing fake Rp.20,000 and Rp.50,000 notes. Under Indonesia’s 2007 Currency Law, the maximum penalty for counterfeiting is 15 years in jail.

The central bank records only reported and confiscated fake money. But not everyone who unwittingly ends up with bogus cash reports it to police or BI. In 2014, BI recorded 122,091 fake notes – or nine counterfeit notes in every million. In 2015, the number leapt to 319,681 (21 in every million). In the first eight months of 2016, the number was 158,426 (ten in every million).

In addition to counterfeit concerns, BI recently had to quash social media claims that the latest version of the Rp.100,000 note features the hammer and sickle communist symbol on its upper left corner. An official said the symbol actually represents BI’s logo and is an additional security measure.

Fatal Beating

On October 22, residents of a red-light area in West Jakarta fatally beat an unemployed man after he paid counterfeit money to a sex worker.

Ano Bin Aman (32), from Tangerang in Banten province, was attacked by locals in the Jembatan Genit locale of Grogol after the sex worker, identified only as A.S., raised the alarm that he had given her fake money.

Tanjung Duren Police chief Zaky Nasution said Ano was in poor condition when the mob delivered him to police. “He was battered and smelly because he had escaped by jumping into a river. When he surfaced, he was seized by the mob and taken here,” he said.

Police found Ano was carrying 16 counterfeit Rp.50,000 notes. He complained of a pain in his head as a result of the beating. Rather than take him straight to hospital, police first searched his house and seized a printer he had used to make the counterfeit.

Local media reports said Ano had often used fake money in stores in Tangerang and West Jakarta, usually shopping at night to purchase drinks and cigarettes. Police said he could face up to seven years in jail under the Currency Law.

After Ano’s condition failed to improve, police on October 25 took him to Kramat Jati Police Hospital in East Jakarta. He died about two hours later. His family declined to have an autopsy performed.

Mob justice against men who seek to short-change sex workers is not uncommon in Indonesia. There have been cases of expatriates in Jakarta being attacked by young thugs for failure to provide sufficient payments to brothel workers.

Dumai Surprise

In February 2016, police in Riau province uncovered a counterfeiting operation after a sex worker from the red-light area of Ampang-Ampang in East Dumai district complained that two men had been paying prostitutes with fake money.

East Dumai Police chief Commissioner Ade Zamrah said the suspects, C.G. (29) and R.A. (25), were arrested red-handed at the brothel area. C.G. told police he had received the money from his stepfather, who in turn had obtained it from a friend, who had paid Rp.30 million for Rp.90 million in fake bills from a counterfeiter in Jakarta.

Play Money

Sometimes, men attempting to fleece sex workers do not even bother trying to obtain realistic counterfeit. On October 27, 2015, police arrested a 60-year-old grandfather after he tried to pay a 28-year-old sex worker with children’s play money.

Subakhir, a resident of Jepara on the northeast coast of Central Java province, took a bus to Semarang, where he soon met a friendly woman named S.A. at Terboyo Bus Terminal. After brief negotiations, she agreed to provide him with “short time service” for Rp.100,000 at the nearby Hotel Handayani.

After they concluded the physical side of their transaction, Subakhir hastily exited the room. S.A. pursued him and demanded payment. He offered her Rp.16,000, which she refused on the grounds it was insufficient. He then offered her some play money featuring superhero characters from the Power Rangers children’s television show, prompting her to fly into a rage.

The hotel’s receptionist held Subakhir until two policemen arrived. They searched Subakhir and found the old man had only Rp.16,000 in genuine cash and hundreds of pieces of play money in denominations from Rp.2,000 to Rp.100,000, totalling more than Rp.28 million.

Subakhir and S.A. were brought to a police station for questioning. The investigating officer determined there was no criminal element in the case, as the money was clearly marked “play money”, so the two were soon released. S.A. was still fuming until a police officer generously provided her with some genuine cash for her trouble.


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