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Desperate times call for desperate measures: an expression which can often translate into “desperate times lead to criminal activities.” With the U.S. economy in shambles, job losses in the millions and with record-breaking prices at the gas pumps, 2008 was a financially turbulent year for Americans indeed. As a result many people adopted the attitude “Well, if no one’s going to give me any money, I’m just gonna hafta make my own!” For as long as there has been currency there has been counterfeiting, here are ten of the more fantastic moments in fake money history.
1. More people are faking it
Last year $64.4 million in phoney cash snuck its way into the U.S. economy, the highest amount in over five years. Counterfeiting arrests jumped 28% from 2007 alone. But how is this possible? One would think that with all the security-enhanced, sophisticated countermeasures printed on the bills themselves that they would be next to impossible to reproduce and easily detectable, even by the untrained eye. Well, ironically, as counterfeit bills become easier to detect, people have become less skilled at detecting them. With so many new bills with holograms and special security measures out there, people have no idea what to look for anymore.
2. Coin Clipping
In the beginning, there were coins. So in order to produce fakes, people would clip the edges of legitimate coins (a process ironically called “clipping”) and would melt them together to make new ones.
3. Death to all counterfeiters
Less than 400 years ago the penalty for counterfeiting was death. Considered an act of high treason, people caught producing their own money in England were hung, disembowelled, and quartered (not one or the other, but all of the above!). This was the fate of Thomas and Anne Rogers, who were busted in 1690 for clipping 40 pieces of silver. Thomas’s “quarters” were put on display as a deterrent while Anne was burned alive at the stake.
In America Benjamin Franklin printed warnings right on the money itself: To Counterfeit is Death.
4. The Secret Service is born
The United States Secret Service was originally founded to suppress the major counterfeit currency racket going on across the country. In 1865 the nation was in somewhat of a financial crisis, as entirely one third of America’s money was counterfeit. President Abraham Lincoln created the Secret Service to deal with the problem. They would eventually be used to investigate everything from murder and bank robbery to illegal gambling. It would not be until 1902 that Secret Service agents would fill their more recognizable role of defending the president, one year after the assassination of President William McKinley.
5. Attacking countries with their own money
Counterfeiting is not only reserved for petty criminals, but has been used by countries as a means of warfare. To destabilize an enemy’s economy you simply flood their country with fake bills, significantly damaging the value of their currency. This tactic was used by Great Britain during the Revolutionary War, reducing the value of the Continental Dollar. The Nazis tried to pull the same stunt on the Allies during what turned out to be the largest counterfeiting operation in history. Taken from concentration camps, Jewish artists were forced by the Nazis to forge American dollars and British pounds. Printing plates were engraved, the right type of paper was developed, codes to generate legitimate serial numbers were cracked, and when all was said and done, 8,965,080 banknotes were produced with a total value of £134,610,810. Despite the fact that England caught wind and foiled their plan, the bills are considered to be some of the best counterfeits ever produced and are next to impossible to distinguish from the real deal. Operation Bernhard inspired books, a BBC comedy-drama miniseries called Private Shulz, and the 2007 Oscar-winning film “The Counterfeiters.”
6. Catch Me if You Can
Named after his bestselling autobiography, which was later adapted to the silver screen by Steven Spielberg, Catch Me if You Can is the story of the world’s greatest con-artist, imposter, and counterfeiter, Frank Abagnale.
Founder of Abagnale & Associates, Frank is one of the leading authorities on fraud detection and prevention. His firm helps businesses protect themselves from fraud, and he is also an adviser to the FBI, where he teaches counterfeit prevention and detection at the FBI academy. After his years in prisons around the world, Frank Abagnale has used his counterfeit powers for the greater good, and has become a multimillionaire in the process.
7. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a Superdollar!
For nearly a decade the American government has been accusing North Korea of producing and flooding the U.S. economy with counterfeit money. The money, officially known as Note Family - C14342, is of such high quality that it earned the name Superdollar or Supernote, and has been able to fool many experts who were unable to tell it apart from legitimate currency. In fact one method of detecting Superdollars is that they are superior to the regular dollar. North Korean diplomats, the Russian mafia and certain Republican organizations in Northern Ireland are all suspect to the distribution of these Superdollars. North Korea has been denying these accusations since day one and they, along with experts from several different countries believe that the money is being produced right at home, by the CIA. The technology required to produce bank notes of such high quality would in fact need to be superior to the original, which adds legitimacy to the possibility of the CIA’s involvement. Ever since these claims have begun to surface, the U.S. has started backing off on their accusations towards North Korea. It is believed that 1 out of every 10 000 bills in circulation today is a Superdollar. Small Business firms are affected very negatively by these fake bills. If unreported, the small business becomes responsible for the money.
8. You must accept counterfeit money
If you work in an establishment where you accept cash (bartender, server, retail clerk, anywhere there’s a cash register etc) and you catch someone handing you counterfeit money, according to the Secret Service it is against the law for you to return it and ask for real money. You must accept it, turn it in, and not get reimbursed. This law seems counter-intuitive, as most people who bust fake money would be most likely to refuse it on the spot, so the Secret Service offers advice on how to handle counterfeit cash:
•Keep the bill from the passer.
•Delay the passer with some excuse, if possible without putting yourself in danger.
•Observe the passer’s description and that of any companion.
•Handle the bill as little as possible to preserve fingerprints.
•Write your initials and date on an unprinted edge on the front of the bill and surrender it to police or the Secret Service.
9. Your money is no good here
In Canada today many businesses still refuse 50 dollar and 100 dollar bills. This is the result of a huge counterfeiting operation based near Windsor Ontario which managed to pump millions of dollars worth of fake 50s and 100s into the Canadian economy back in 2001. According to an article at CBC News.ca “as more and more retailers subject their higher denomination bills to closer scrutiny, the counterfeiters have turned to the lower denominations. More than 85 per cent of the fake bills passed in 2005 were 5s, 10s, and 20s.” So when you’re walking the streets of Montreal or Toronto you could have a thick wad of legitimate 100s in your pocket, walk into a store and be treated as though you had no money. It has always been popular for Americans to make fun of Canadian money, with all its colors and its slightly lower value, but check out the security on these bad boys, new bills which were printed after the counterfeit ring was exposed.
1. When the bill is tilted, brightly coloured numerals and maple leaves will “move” within the holographic stripe. There is a colour-split within each maple leaf.
2. Watermarked portrait. Hold the note to a light and a small ghost-like image of the portrait appears to the left of the large numeral.
3. Windowed colour-shifting thread. Hold the note to the light and a continuous, solid line appears. From the back of the note, the thread resembles a series of exposed metallic dashes that shift from gold to green when the bill is tilted.
4. See-through number. Hold the note to the light and the irregular marks on the front and back will form a perfectly aligned number 100, 20, or 10.
10. They don’t make ‘em like they used to
In 1995, counterfeit money produced by Ink-Jet printers made up less than 1% of the money collected by the Secret Service. At that time fake money was produced by skilled printers who used heavy offset presses to create their dollar bills. This type of counterfeiting seems to be a lost art, as poor quality Ink-jet printed money represented 60% of the counterfeit currency collected last year, for a total value of $103 million.