Take note: cautionary tale for cash handlers

Friday January 24, 2020 Written by Published in Economy
A new NZ$5 note, top, and the “mute” note. 20012106/20012107. A new NZ$5 note, top, and the “mute” note. 20012106/20012107.

When should you accept strange-looking currency over the counter? One family had a lucky escape.


It’s tough trading in a hot tourist mecca like Cook Islands: visitors may try to spend currencies from all over the world. US greenbacks, Aussie dollars, Chinese yuan, euros and of course our own unique Cook Islands coins and the occasional $3 note.

Now there’s another challenge for retailers: “mute” money.

Mute is banking shorthand for “mutilated” and there have been a couple of complaints of mute $5 notes here that were at first thought to be counterfeits. In fact, they were simply so old that the hologram and other security features had faded.

Kathryn Reid and her uncle Fred Estall a discovered a jaded New Zealand $5 note with the hologram not visible at all, at the family shop Tivaeavae Collectibles.

Concerned, Estall took the note in to one of the banks to query the validity of the note. He was re-assured the note was a “mute” and was issued with a newer, replacement note.

Counterfeit and mute notes are different. A counterfeit note is an illegal forgery or copy, and is not valid legal tender. A mute is a legal note that has been damaged in some way – faded, ripped or torn – and therefore should be swapped and taken out of circulation.

Bank of the South Pacific country manager David Street said they were happy to swap mutes for fresh notes or credit a customer’s account. “We have avenues to repatriate mutes and therefore take them out of circulation,” he explained.

He advised customers to: carefully check all notes they receive, to ensure they look legitimate and aren’t damaged in any way. If they are mute they can be brought into the bank and swapped. If they are unsure on the legitimacy of a note (possible counterfeit) they should not accept the note.

“If unsure, customers can bring notes into the bank and we can advise – we have manuals which assist with identifying legitimate notes.”

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