Fake new generation bank notes have hit the mainstream financial market three weeks to the September 30 deadline as imitators rush to beat the Central Bank at its own game.
Investigations by Nation reveal that the counterfeiters are getting better with every revision they have hurriedly come up with, and they are perfecting the art in under three months.
The fake money syndicate, which started operating in Murang'a, has now spread its tentacles to Nairobi and Kiambu counties, taking advantage of naivety of traders who are yet to know how to differentiate the real from the fake.
The introduction of new notes was hoped to disrupt the multibillion currency counterfeits business, and a move by the fraudsters to quickly imitate the money is set to be a big blow to efforts to rid the country of dirty and fake money.
Small traders and those running M-Pesa shops have been the easy targets of the counterfeiters, who now have come up with the Sh100, Sh500 and the Sh1000 notes.
The Nation attempted to test various traders, shoeshiners and parking attendants in Nairobi and Kiambu counties with some of the fake notes that were shared with us by victims. The majority easily took the cash and transferred their goods and services without telling the fake money until we pointed out.
In one of the private parking spots on Muindi Mbingu Street, the attendants gave us a Sh200 change and receipt and was shocked when we told him the money was fake. On closer scrutiny, however, and with the benefit of hindsight, he was able to tell that the money was fake but admitted that he would just have taken it and gave it to the next person.
A shoeshiners next to Jamia Mall also failed the test, but a customer easily pointed out the fake note when we handed it to him.
The response was almost the same when we tried similar tests in Ruaka, Kikuyu, Gitaru and at Monday's egg market at Wangige in Kiambu. From the eight traders we sampled, only three immediately pointed out there was something amiss with the notes.
The others had agreed to sell us a tray of eggs and would have been victims had we not told them the money they had just put in their purse was fake.
An attendant at Kamaa butchery in Ruaka town, who received Sh2,000 fake money, says despite being very keen on all notes he received, the scammers got him on Sunday. Mr Kamaa has already pinned the Sh1,000 fake notes on his wall, and says he is too careful with customers who show up in a hurry in the evening, the peak time for meat sales. Ms Caro Luseso, who runs a hotel in Ruaka town, was also a victim of the fake cash syndicate over the weekend.
She says she lost Sh500, which is more than half of her profits for the day.
By the time of going to press, CBK had not commented on how it plans to deal with fake currency syndicate that appears to always be one-step ahead.
Fake new generation currency was first reported in Kandara, Murang'a in June, after imitators swung into action just a month after they hit the market.
Local police moved in and arrested three people, two men and a woman, who were found with fake currency notes in two separate incidents.
The CBK, which is on the spot for moving too slowly with training; from banks to now customers, is counting on the ongoing currency demonetisation process to deal with fakes.
Banks and players in the financial sector were the first to raise concerns, saying they were all caught off-guard, and the CBK took too long to start training its staff. Some operators of parking machines had not by end of last week received new machines that can dispense the new notes.
By last week, Kenyans had not yet returned over Sh100 billion in old currency even as the CBK ruled out an extension.
The US embassy has also announced that it will not be accepting the Sh1,000 old generation notes from tomorrow, an action if replicated by other agencies and businesses will put the old notes into more pressure.