WaMu Gives Out Counterfeits, Doesn’t Care

BC hit a hiccup on his African safari honeymoon. When he went to pay the adventure company with $100s his wife took out their WaMu bank in ATM, three of the Franklins turned out to be counterfeit.

Back stateside, the WaMu branch manager was unhelpful, claiming, “there was no way to prove” that the $100s came from WaMu and regardless, the cash, “comes straight from the Federal Reserve.”

Uncle Sam may be well into his cups these days, but we’re willing to put good money that the US Mint is not slipping in faked bills to banks.

Rightly, BC rightly closed his account. Though we understand the frustration that led him to it, he should have turboed his issue up the corporate ladder instead of giving up on the first lanky WaMu manager he encountered.

Washington Mutual wears its heart of darkness on its sleeve, in BC’s letter, after the jump.

UPDATE: Limiter brings up a really good point in the comments… based on the timeline, the African safari could have slipped him the counterfeits too!

    “Hey, if you’re interested in another story about how Washington Mutual is the worst bank in the world, how about this one: they hand out fake bills and weasel out of refunding you.

    I got married in May, and had only two days between coming back from the wedding and leaving on my honeymoon (Africa: safari and beach). The day before my wife and I left town, we both got a bunch of cash and travelers checks. She went to Washington Mutual, and got a bunch of hundreds; I went to Chase, and got checks and fifties.

    Cut to a week later, when we attempt to pay for our excellent 5-day safari with a bunch of the American cash, which we had set aside. The safari company owner took our cash, gave it a funny kind of look, walked out of the room, came back and said “I’m sorry, but these bills are fake.” And he pulled 3 $100 bills out of the bunch that were slightly off-color and of a subtly different paper weight. I’ve been stuck with a couple fake bills in my day — one time I had to go to three dark bars in a row to get rid of a photocopied $50 — but these were the best that I had ever seen. Three-color printing and decently crisp, slightly fabric-y paper. We were obviously surprised and flummoxed. We apologized, he apologized, I cashed some checks at the bureau d’exchange next door and all ended well. [Africa’s full of counterfeit bills, apparently, and I don’t think it’s the first time they had seen this problem.] Next day, we contacted Washington Mutual through their website and let them know the problem, and they seemed considerate and helpful, if somewhat non-committal.

    Now it’s another week later, we’re back from Africa and eager to get our money back. Probably not all of it, since one of the fake bills appeared to have been stolen from our hotel room in the interim, but at least we’d like to get a refund on the 2 fakes that we still have. [It’s tempting to say “Joke’s on you” to the thief/ves, but as I noted, fake bills are everywhere in Africa, so I’m guessing that they were used w/o problem).

    So we head to the Washington Mutual on 13th and Broadway [NYC], where my wife got her bad bills, and ask for the manager. This young kid comes up, and after hearing our problem immediately starts berating us. “Oh, these are so fake,” he says, “they’re obviously fake, we can’t refund these. These are the worst I’ve ever seen.”

    If they’re so fake, we ask, what the hell were they doing in your bank?

    After protesting that there’s no way that we can prove they came from his bank, we inform him that, in fact, we basically can, since there were no other big bills in our possession except for my fifties. So after a few minutes, he relents, and says “We don’t check the bills, they come directly from the Federal Reserve,” and he points to the WaMu Cash Dispenser in the middle of the room. “We don’t do anything with the bills, they just come to us and we put them in the machine.” [For those who don’t know – when you get money from a WaMu branch, the tellers don’t actually hand you the cash, they give you a receipt and then you go to the Cash Dispenser to get your scratch.]

    And then he says that perhaps if we had found them on the day of the withdrawal, we could have gotten our money back, but the scorn in his voice betrays that this is obviously a lie — his way of ducking behind the bank’s regulations and ending the conversation. So we leave and pledge to get out of WaMu for good. [I had hated them for a long time due to their awful customer service, their love of dropping random fees on me, and their incredibly long check-cashing hangtime, but this converted my wife to a hater, she had never had a problem with them.]

    Now, because you have to go to your primary bank to make changes [which I assumed includes closing the account], and I no longer live anywhere near there, it takes me a while to close out, but I’ve pulled all my cash and automatic bills from there in the meantime. So it’s a long empty account by the time I finally make it to the Grand and Graham branch in Brooklyn [BTW, at one time I believe this was the 2nd or 3rd most robbed bank in the entire city of New York.]

    Closing the account was easy. Incredibly, remarkably, suspiciously easy. Not one but two people asked my reason for leaving WaMu, and I told them both the truth. “My wife got fake bills.” Not a single eye was batted! They just pointed me to the right line, and processed my my request w/o further question or concern. Which led me to believe — they’d heard this all before, and they couldn’t give a shit.

    So, to sum up: Washington Mutual is run by uncaring, snarky children, they offer *no assurances* that the money you get will be legit, and if it isn’t, you will not get any reparation.

    Guess I now know the real price of all those free checking accounts. I mean, can it really be true that there are banks operating today that can’t and won’t vouch for their own cash? I used to bank with Bank of New York, or as it’s known outside of Manhattan, “the Russian Mafia,” and they were bad — but they never pulled this sort of crap. I mean, seriously — does WaMu use those Cash Dispenser machines solely to avoid personal or institutional responsibility for their own cash?”


Edit Your Comment

  1. limiter says:

    Um… I bet all my $100 fake dollar bills that the guy who left the room with the money switched out three real bills with counterfeit ones he had in the back. “Africa’s full of counterfeit bills”… yeah and you just got passed 3.

  2. Falconfire says:

    “but we’re willing to put good money that the US Mint is not slipping in faked bills to banks.”

    Dont be too surprised. A good percentage of our money is fake, and most of it came from the Reserve (which BTW is NOT the Mint, two different places, one creates the money the other holds it). 100’s not likely, but 1’s and 5’s are the most counterfitted bills out there. The reserve does very little testing of money coming BACK to the place unless it looks suspect. If its a really good counterfit bill it will get by undetected.

    That being said, WaMu doesnt get crap from them directly, it gets it from holding houses who get it from them and WaMus ATMs are not even loaded with that money… they get special prepared trays that the bank staff dont even touch.

    Little known fact, the secret service was created not to protect the presedent…. but to find counterfit money. What is more surprising though is that 99% of their job is still that to this day.

  3. timmus says:

    I think limiter may have a good point. Otherwise, I think one is out on a limb trying to get a bank to take back counterfeits, because really they are obligated to seize them without recompense.

  4. Limiter is probably right. I’ve gotta side with the bank on this one.

    That’s the rub with counterfeits… whomever ends up with them when they’re discovered is the person who loses the money. That’s just how it works.

  5. Ben Popken says:

    Limiter, that is a really good point!

  6. amazon says:

    You know what I hate most about counterfeit bills? It’s the poor schmuck that bothers to be honest about them that gets stuck. Banks and companies have seem to have zero accountability when they hand out fakes, but woe unto you if you try to give them one.

  7. Falconfire says:

    yeah RTFA now and you can see right there, the guy got suckered. Probably passed the fake 100’s in Africa. Like I said while 1’s and 5’s I can see, 100’s are a red flag always and would have gotten noticed.

  8. Asherah says:

    To emphasize Princess Sparkly Pony’s comment, it is quite true that if you are the bearer of the counterfeit bill, you are the one who will take the loss, or worst case scenario, when you unknowingly go to spend said bill, you may have the policy called on you for trying to negotiate it (even, unknowingly.) Point being…if you make it a practice to deal with a lot of cash, familiarize yourself with the standards of good bills, and I would even dare say pay a visit to your local bank and ask them to show you a few of their counterfeits for educational purposes. I did this for plenty of clients back in the day, however this was primarily after we had confiscated counterfeit bills in their business and personal deposits.

  9. AcilletaM says:

    Protect yourself because really, the banks don’t care about you. Most office supply stores sell the counterfeit checking pens and such, get one and check your big bills yourself. Especially when your at the bank and getting money. Tellers only look shocked the first time or two you do it.

  10. Skeptic says:

    It does seem rather obvious from the story. Really, really obvious. Often when people are ripped off they couldn’t see the subterfuge because it was well disguised and yet here the probable subterfuge is like a semi running through the story.

    How did this story even merit posting? “I went to Africa, gave some guy a bunch of $100, he **leaves the room with them**, comes back and tells me their counterfeit so clearly my bank in the US ripped me off?” WTF?

    Although the turnover for bank tellers is about as high as for Supercuts hairdressers, they are trained to spot counterfeits because the bank has to eat them if they accept them. Further, most banks have their own cash and change counting centers which count and package most of the cash tellers hand out. This cash goes through sophisticated counterfeit detecters which are way more sensitive than “some guy” in Africa.

    I can’t believe the story that makes this probable rip off so painfully obvious is below the fold.

  11. Mike_ says:

    Hey BC, let me take a look at the rest of those $100’s. They look an awful lot like Monopoly money, but I’ll have to take a closer look in the other room. You know, the room where I keep my Monopoly money.

  12. Hooray4Zoidberg says:

    This African Safari didn’t happen to take place in Nigeria did it?

  13. Skeptic says:

    “Most office supply stores sell the counterfeit checking pens and such, get one and check your big bills yourself. Especially when your at the bank and getting money. Tellers only look shocked the first time or two you do it.”

    That does sound like fun.

    But all that is in those “counterfeit detecting pens” is iodine! Iodine reacts to the starch “”sizing” found in many kinds of paper to prevent ink from soaking into it (ever try writing on a napkin?) However, not all counterfeit bills have starch in them and some real bills have been exposed to starch through everyday use, including laundry. Magician and s—stirrer James Randi even claims to get stacks of $50s from his bank which he then spray-starches and re-depostits.

    You are better off looking for color changing ink, micro-print, watermarking and the coded security tapes than using iodine.

  14. Falconfire says:

    yes but the iodine helps you to target which ones might be suspect. Your not supposed to rely on it solely as the indicator, but it combined with what you said to be the indicator.

    I have had many bills that have the ink on them that are legit.

  15. “I’ve been stuck with a couple fake bills in my day — one time I had to go to three dark bars in a row to get rid of a photocopied $50”

    Um, hello, felony? Once you know it’s counterfeit, you can’t pass it on!

    Contact the Secret Service, not the bank. And admitting to felonies on the internet ALSO not the brightest idea.

  16. Ah the African Safari honeymoon…hunt endangered species, contract any one of several deadly diseases including flesh eating bacteria, risk being chopped up by machete wielding maniacs for your pants, and get ripped off and passed counterfeit bills.

    How romantic!

  17. pete says:

    crayonshinobi FTW

    Easy way to avoid this – when taking a substantial amount of cash with you on vacation, subtly mark all the bills.
    Just a fleck of black magic marker, or a mark from a counterfeit-check pen (if you’re super-paranoid), on the lower-right corner each bill.
    When scammer re-enters room with switched out bills you can easily call him on it.

  18. North of 49 says:

    I love Canadian Money. Harder to counterfeit. Holograms, 3d ink, and more just to keep the money legit.

  19. Hooray4Zoidberg says:

    “When scammer re-enters room with switched out bills you can easily call him on it.”

    Then he’ll pull out a pack of mentos and you can both have a good chuckle.

  20. gotbock says:

    “Then he’ll pull out a pack of mentos and you can both have a good chuckle.”

    Or he’ll take out his machete and take back his counterfeits, and your pants.

  21. Plasmafire says:

    You need to complain to the Secret Service in these matters, they by law are the ones who handle all counterfit currency, and when they ask you where you got it, it could launch an investigation into their entire bank, all the way to their corporate headquarters.

  22. Trai_Dep says:

    There are two points of vulnerability I see. The clerk leaving the presence. And LW mentioned one of the fake $100 was stolen while in his hotel room. If someone can steal unattended cash, they can swap it too. Much slicker than stealing (thief #2 – an amateur)

    PS: check if your toothbrush wasn’t counterfitted as well (develop the roll of film in your camera to be sure)

  23. bccomment says:

    Hey, it’s BC from the story, checking in on the comments. I kind of like Limiter’s possible explanation for its sheer punchline value (“Ba-dum-Ching!”), but I don’t think that’s what happened. No point in arguing it, everyone’s got their mind made up either way. Besides, if it had been an open-and-shut, airtight case against WaMu, I would have put up more of a fight at the bank, as Ben suggested — and I clearly couldn’t on the evidence alone.

    But that’s beside the point. Getting-scammed-in-Africa stories are a dime a dozen and, yeah, totally unworthy of any attention outside of the loneliest Lonely Planet message board — but that’s not a story that I would have complained about to Consumerist. So, if that’s what you’re focusing on here, then give yourself another pat on the back, smart guy, because you totally missed the point.

    The story here is this: a bank manager told me point blank that they have no anti-counterfeiting measures in place whatsoever and that they couldn’t vouch for the authenticity of their bills at all. I find that to be a little fucked up. Plus, Skeptic’s point about bank tellers being trained to look for counterfeits would be dead on — if the problem wasn’t that WaMu has cut the tellers from the process entirely!

    So was it, in Clue© parlance, the Tanzanian tour operator, with the fake bills, in Africa, or the sleazy, fake-loan-sending, self-admittedly-careless corporate bank, with the cash dispenser, in Union Square that did the deed? Make up your own mind. But I can tell you this much – I’ll go back to Africa, but I’ll never step in a WaMu again.

    BTW, I’m finding a frame for the 2 remaining fakes. They’re kind of cool.

  24. billspaced says:

    BC was punked. The guy leaving the room with his money — he gave BC the fake bills. That’s one of the more obvious dupes I’ve ever seen.

    Man, BC, sorry, but you were had.

    The bank had nothing to do with it.

  25. kustoo says:

    I used to work for Washington Mutual Bank and this does happen sometimes. The truth is that unless you notice that the money is fake before you actually leave the bank, no bank is going to take responsibility. It sucks, but it is the truth.

    A similar incident happened to me last Christmas. I took out a bunch of cash from the bank and after trying to pay for some toys for the neice, I was told that one of the bills I submitted was fake. Since I don’t carry around hundred dollar bills, I knew exactly where it was from. I went back to the bank and despite my cries, the Wamu branch refused to refund/replace my fake bill. They insisted that I could have changed it when I left the bank. If I would have noticed before I left, I would have been able to get it replaced.

  26. bccomment says:

    Actually, the missus just reminded me of a crucial point – he only handed me back two bills, the third fake bill was in our stash. In my bag. In the Land Rover. Outside. And hadn’t been touched for a week.

    Oh, snap, bitches! Or maybe he was pulling some David Blaine type shit? Breaking into our honeymoon suite and planting a fake a bill so that the counterfeiting scheme he devised with Kim Jong-Il would continue undetected!

    Nice job ignoring the point, people: WaMu doesn’t care about fake bills. Or about you. Enjoy all that free checking, suckers!

  27. papadopoulos says:

    falconfire’s claim that “WaMus ATMs are not even loaded with that money… they get special prepared trays that the bank staff dont even touch” is not true. I had the misfortune of working as a WaMu teller (and ATM custodian) and can tell you that bank staff do, in fact, load the ATMs, sometimes even with cash that comes in off the street.

  28. wstanton says:

    Wow, so much abject trust for the bank, who believes some 17 year old teller, who could care less about this job is qualified to be an expert on counterfeiting. It’s possible for the money to have been obtained, (switched, or whatever) anywhere, but for a company as large as WM to lose at least one customer for a paltry $300.00, when they have plenty of insurance to cover the loss without passing anything on to the consumer, that is the real problem.

    Having worked in the financial industry for my entire adult life, I can tell you that whatever happened, WM dropped the ball, and mega Kudo’s for pointing it out!


  29. polarbz says:

    Send your counterfeits to your Soldiers overseas. The local merchants can’t tell the difference – and it all eventually ends up in the hands of insurgents, so, really, you are doing the world a favor by making it so some insurgent somewhere can’t buy his bombs because the Russians MAY actually check to see if its counterfeit. Nothing pisses of a suicide bomber like having no bombs.

  30. gypsychk says:

    “… for a company as large as WM to lose at least one customer for a paltry $300.00, when they have plenty of insurance to cover the loss without passing anything on to the consumer …”

    By admitting the counterfeit bills came from a company ATM, would WaMu also be admitting to a felony? (I’m really asking; I don’t know.) If that’s the case, WaMu (and its customers) have a lot more to lose than $300 … Ultimately, it sounds like an already unhappy customer was goosed to finally break with WaMu.

    I’m sorry any of this happened, BC. I hope the honeymoon was wonderful otherwise, and congrats on getting hitched.

  31. anony says:


    This guy admits to a felony (knowingly passing a fake $50 in a bar) and has the nerve to blame his woes on WAMU after getting scammed in Africa?.

    It’d be the pot calling the kettle black if WAMU passed the fakes. But this doesn’t even reach that level.

    Brass balls.

  32. saintjohnson says:

    I feel the same with Canadian coinage in the U.S. they’re fine until someone looks close then they either have to pass it off or just put it in a loose change cup to be forgotten.

    Of course…with a C-note…you’d need a bigger cup and/or more disposable income.

    Think about it…$200…that’s almost an ipod.

  33. jfischer says:

    Clearly, the strategy here would be to say nothing to
    WaMu about the fake bills, but to return to the bank,
    withdraw say $500, and THEN “discover” the funny money.

    This would require one to have the fakes in one’s wallet,
    and as one inserts the new money into the wallet, “notice”
    that one of the fakes “looks fake”.

    If they are going to game their customers, they can
    themselves be gamed.