When Counterfeiting, Know Your Security Features

Bales of U.S. Currency

Bales of U.S. Currency

When counterfeiting, know your security features.  This was brought to mind with a story in the Prescott (Arizona) Daily Courier July 26, 2012.  Apparently a man tried to pass fake $100 bills twice.  In one place, the cashier noticed that the security thread and watermark were wrong.  In the next place, the cashier needed change and asked her manager.  The manager noticed that, while the main picture was good ol’ Ben Franklin, the watermark was Abe Lincoln.  This technique, known as “raising the note,” is accomplished by bleaching the ink out of a legitimate piece of currency (in this case a $5 bill), then printing the legitimate currency paper with a higher value ($100).  The practice has been around for decades, but it’s much harder today with security threads, watermarks, and so on.  Anyone interested should track down a PBS NOVA show called “Secrets of Making Money.” Although the video was made in 1996, there’s still a lot in it that people don’t know about.  And the website seems to have been kept up to date.  Of course, if you’re looking for basic facts,  There’s also a government website devoted to various security features in different denominations.

Helpful tidbit: have you noticed that the $5, $10, $20, and $50 notes have peach and red colors on the note?  Ever wondered why the $100 bill doesn’t?  To understand the answer, you need to understand the two broad categories of counterfeiters.  There are professionals who only print fake $100 bills.  (If you don’t get that, ask yourself why no one ever bothers to print a fake $1 bill.  Exactly.)

There are also casual counterfeiters, people (often fairly young) who have access to a high-resolution scanner, a color laser printer, or a color copier.  They don’t even bother with the $100, knowing it’s out of their league.  And when they see the results of trying to copy the lower denominations, it’s a real deterrent to trying to pass those fake notes.

Funniest story ever: a guy in Florida (it’s always Florida, isn’t it?) created a fake $20 bill by snipping all four corners off a legitimate $20 and pasting them on to a $1 bill.  I’m not smart enough to make up stuff this good.