Vestful of Dollars
Day 012 – August 3, 2011
In my walks between our house and our local grocery store (and after taking a moment to say hello to Señor Ferrero), one of the establishments I pass by is a bank.
Loitering around this house of finance are people in photographer-style vests. However, instead of their vests being filled with lenses and other camera paraphernalia, these garments are splattered with the logo of our fine district and with dollar signs and euro signs.
These gentlemen also have the distinction of carrying with them huge wads of cash including dollars, soles, and euros.
Considering Lima’s reputation for crime, I found it odd that folks would be so open about handling large amounts of money. This is from the U.S. Department of State’s website about Peru: Violent crime, including carjacking, assault,…and armed robbery is common in Lima and other large cities.
It probably helps that banks employ security folks who patrol outside, so the monied folks hanging around these financial institutions are probably safer than the average person.
After watching for a while, I noticed that several regular people would walk up or drive up to the money people and an exchange would take place. The customer would hand over soles and receive dollars or vice-versa.
My best guess is that these vested individuals are money changers.
But, wait, don’t banks exchange money? Can’t a customer simply go into the bank with a fistful of dollars, wait in line, and exchange them for soles? Are the banks aware of this competition?
It’s just these types of observations that I love about coming to a new country. Keeps me on my toes because I may get the wrong idea…but only when it suits me.
UPDATE: NOVEMBER 14, 2011
I have since learned that indeed these folks are money changers. If they have a different official term, I haven’t discovered it yet.
I have also found that these money changers offer a slightly better rate. However, there is a catch. Once again, from the State Department’s website about Peru…
Counterfeit U.S. currency is a growing and serious problem in Peru. In many areas of the city, moneychangers openly change money on the street. These individuals should be avoided as they are a conduit for counterfeit currency and in many cases, work in leagues with pickpockets by pointing out potential victims. In addition, these individuals have frequently been the victims of violent robberies in which bystanders have been injured.
Now you know. And when a man has information in his pocket, he begins to appreciate the place where he is.