Bulgarian foreign exchange bureaus ‘sting’ customers – report

Some foreign exchange bureaus in Bulgaria are cheating customers by changing money at slightly different rates from those advertised on the boards outside their offices, a Bulgarian media report has alleged.

The July 11 report by Bulgarian local television station bTV was based on what one of its reporters found when he went “undercover” posing as someone looking for seasonal work and who was given a job working for a foreign exchange bureau firm.

The report alleged that the main targets for the cheating scheme were Western Europeans changing euro. The employee in the office chose whom to cheat, the report said.

The firm involved was one of the largest in Bulgaria, with more than 90 offices throughout Bulgaria and 50 in the Sunny Beach resort, north of Bourgas on the Black Sea coast.

According to the report, the first day of training of a new employee involves basic information about the major currencies and how to detect counterfeit notes.

Already on the second day, the new employee is given inside information about schemes to “sting” customers.

The scheme involves changing money at a rate very slightly different from that advertised. The amounts of which customers are cheated are relatively small if euro are involved, and larger if the currency is rarer in Bulgaria. On sums of 50 to 100 euro, the customer loses about two to four leva, according to the report.

The report showed a customer being given leva at a rate of 1.86 to the euro instead of the stated 1.905, meaning that he lost about two leva on the deal. In another transaction, involving Romanian lei, the rate was 3.67 instead of the stated 4.11.

Hidden camera footage used in the report showed, among other things, the cashier advising the undercover reporter that it was easier to cheat if the sum involved was not a round one, because it made the mental arithmetic more difficult for the customer.

Customers were given the transaction documents to sign before being handed the cash. The regulations are that a transaction may not be queried after the customer has signed for receiving the cash.

According to the staff, the most difficult to cheat were Russians and Romanians, because they watched proceedings vigilantly, while it was generally not practice to cheat Bulgarians, because they might be undercover National Revenue Agency agents.

The report quoted the National Revenue Agency as saying that the scheme was “on the edge of the law” because the law allowed variations on official exchange rates of up to five per cent.

A spokesperson for the agency advised customers to look carefully at the documents that they were being asked to sign.

The spokesperson said that in the coming weeks and months, there would be dozens of checks by National Revenue Agency “mystery shoppers” and “if we are offered a slip deviating from the stated exchange, it will cost the bureau their licence”.

The agency had asked the Consumer Protection Commission for assistance because such cheating was an unfair commercial practice.

(Photo: Darren Deans/sxc.hu)



The Sofia Globe staff

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