Counterfeiting (printing fake currency notes/bills) is a problem in all countries, including Turkey. You need to be on your guard.
You Can Buy Them on the Street!
Walking in Istanbul, I saw a street seller with a small portable table. On the table were stacks of US dollars, Turkish liras, and euros: notes of 5, 10, 20, 100, 200... Stacks of them, bound with rubber bands, for sale.
I looked closely at the notes and each had printed on it the word "GEÇERSİZDİR," which means "Non-negotiable." In other words, fake. Worthless. Sahte ("Fake" in Turkish).
It was on the US dollar bills, the euros, the Turkish liras. I could have bought a stack of fake US $100 bills for a few real Turkish liras.
A foreign visitor looking closely—as I did—at the dollar and euro notes might see the unfamiliar term GEÇERSİZDİR printed inconspicuously in the corner of each note. Perhaps we'd think it was some bank's addition, like those marks, scribbles and small rubber stamps sometimes seen on dollar and euro notes in other countries.
But what about the Turkish liras? A Turkish word on a Turkish lira note? We'd probably not notice. The only reason I found it was because I couldn't believe a guy was selling stacks of currency on the street. And when I finally noticed it, I knew what it meant.
Would you notice it? If you did, would you know it shouldn't be on a valid Turkish Lira note?
Notes from Banks are Safe. But...
Banks in Turkey and many other countries have currency-counting machines that not only count currency notes, but test the notes for authenticity. If the machine rejects a note, the bank will not accept it. Turkish merchants tell me they periodically receive counterfeit notes, which means they've lost money. "We just tear them up," says one.
Entering a museum recently, I handed the clerk a TL20 note in payment and noticed that she passed it beneath an ultraviolet ("black," or UVA) lamp before accepting it. (Official markings visible only under ultraviolet light are one common security feature of authentic currency notes.)
If you exchange currency notes at a bank, you'll almost certainly receive legal notes. At a currency exchange office, the notes will probably be legal, but you should check to be sure. From a merchant, be sure to check.
From someone on the street? Your chances of receiving fake notes is high.
How to Recognize Legal Banknotes
All legal notes have sophisticated, difficult-to-duplicate security features. You should be aware of them, learn to recognize at least some of them, and examine closely any notes coming from unfamiliar sources, or in suspect transactions.
Here's how authentic Turkish lira notes look.
If you plan to buy, exchange or use a significant amount of currency notes, you may want to buy a small, pocket UVA ultraviolet flashlight/torch to carry with you. (Inexpensive lights are sold for the detection of otherwise-invisible pet urine stains.) Be sure it's a UVA (320-400 nm) lamp, the most common and inexpensive type, as that is the frequency of UV light used for currency security measures. UVB and UVC are used for different purposes, and will not work for checking currency.
Here's information on counterfeit Turkish Lira notes from the Turkish Republic Central Bank.
—Here's information on counterfeit US Dollar notes from the US Secret Service.
—Here's information on counterfeit euro notes from the European Central Bank. Also see www.new-euro-banknotes.eu, also an official European Union website.
—by Tom Brosnahan