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Restaurateur furious after being stung twice by fake bank notes: 'Didn't think this could happen'

The Aussie businessman said his restaurant was paid in fake bank notes twice in two weeks as cost of living crisis sparks a crime spike.

Take $50 note (left) and Omar El Deek and his business partner Giacomo Pietrantuono (right).
Omar El Deek, who runs Cosi Bar Ristorante with his business partner Giacomo Pietrantuono, said he was angry to be scammed twice by forged notes. (Source: Supplied)

The owner of a popular Italian bistro was shocked and angry after discovering counterfeit banknotes had been used to pay for fancy meals twice in two weeks. People are pulling back on spending as the cost-of-living crisis deepens, but Omar El Deek wasn't expecting to be short-changed like this, let alone twice.

The fake $50 and $100 notes were good enough to fool staff at Cosi Bar Ristorante in Melbourne's South Yarra. El Deek told Yahoo Finance he didn't even think the customers knew, and that they had unwittingly used the fake money already in circulation locally.

"We have so many people, it’s very busy," he said. "The number of customers who pay in cash is very low and obviously, the staff are not trained to handle a lot of cash any more. They just take the cash and put it in the register.”

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It was not until later that office staff realised something was wrong with the notes and investigated whether they were counterfeit.

He has issued a warning so other business owners don't fall for the same plot. But could you tell the difference?

Two $100 notes - one fake and one real.
Can you tell which note is fake? (Supplied)

Do you have a story to tell? Contact yahoo.finance.au@yahooinc.com

El Deek was "shocked" when the first counterfeit showed up in the till.

But his upset turned to anger the second time last week, on May 29, and he has since bought a machine to test for counterfeits. Staff have also undergone training to check for fakes. The second option in the poll above is the counterfeit.

“I never thought this could happen in Australia,” he told Yahoo Finance. “In Italy, it happens sometimes, but I thought it was a European thing with the Euro. Usually, it’s the five and 10 Euros.

“My staff believes the customers were unaware they used fake notes and didn’t try to scam us, hence why I believe the notes were already in circulation. I wanted to raise awareness in the community.”

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While the fake notes were “well made”, El Deek said the $50 note felt slightly different to a legitimate version and there were other differences in the ink quality.

“I didn’t think this could happen but it’s the opposite because of the (cost of living) crisis,” he said. “People are struggling and crime is going up. It’s scary out there, honestly.”

This $100 note already had a slight tear and was easily ripped in half by a staff member investigating if it was real.

Fake $100 note.
Another one of the fake notes that customers used to pay at El Deek's restaurant. (Source: Supplied)

It’s an offence to knowingly possess counterfeit notes and there’s no reimbursement for victims who end up with them in their wallet or till.

El Deek said he was going to report the incident to Victoria Police.

Yahoo Finance reported on fake cash being sold online in January.

In a statement, an Australian Federal Police spokesperson told Yahoo Finance there had not been a significant increase in reports of counterfeit currency over the last six months – but incidents fluctuated over time.

“However, the AFP is aware of a significant rise in posts, pages and advertisements on social media, purporting to sell counterfeit currency,” the spokesperson said. “To date, the AFP is not aware of any instance where a product has been provided from these sources.

“Items or imagery shown is not necessarily a true representation of what is being offered for sale and therefore we currently consider these pages are better characterised as scams.”

Buying or selling illicit counterfeit money is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of 12 years imprisonment.

A comparison of a fake and a real note (left) and El Deek with a glass of wine (right).
El Deek said he wanted to raise awareness about fake bank notes circulating in the community after being given them on two occasions. (Source: Supplied)

The Reserve Bank of Australia said there were a number of ways to check for fake notes such as holding it up to a UV light to check various security features were present.

Tilting a $50 note should show the bird’s wings move and change colour, the number change direction and a rolling colour effect on a spot in the top corner.

“It is an offence to knowingly possess counterfeit banknotes,” the RBA said. “Suspect banknotes should be given to state or federal police. It is important to note that counterfeits have no value – you will not be reimbursed.”

Here's some handy tips to help identify if you've been given a fake note.
Here's some handy tips to help identify if you've been given a fake note. (Royal Australian Mint)

If you come across a banknote you believe is a forgery, the RBA recommends storing it in an envelope and handling it as little as possible, noting how it came into your possession and immediately reporting the matter to the police.

“You are well within your rights to refuse to accept a banknote if you have concerns about it,” the RBA said. “Under no circumstances should you take actions that may jeopardise your safety or that of others.”

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