Counterfeit cash — It can range from everything from jokingly placing a dollar bill in a Xerox machine, to a real threat to our national security. Think that’s an exaggeration? Most consider counterfeit currency as merely an illegal means to accumulate wealth. On the contrary, some of the most large-scale counterfeiting scams in history have been when one government floods a rival government with fake currency in order to weaken that rival government’s economy. The British did it to the Americans during the Revolutionary War, and the Union did it to the Confederacy during the American Civil War. This is why counterfeiting is often punishable by death. It is equated with treason. Fortunately today, a vast number of security measures are in place to protect much of the world’s currency. But the problem still goes on.
– Although only introduced to United States currency within the past couple decades, watermarks have been used by papermakers to brand their work and deter counterfeiting since the 13th century. The process of watermarking creates an image on the paper that is usually only visible when the paper is held up to light. United States currency originally had watermarks of presidential portraits. With the newer bills, however, the watermarks are used to further display the money’s denomination.
– One advanced security feature currently not employed by the United States Dollar, but utilized by many other currencies such as the British Pound, the Euro, Canadian Dollars, Japanese Yen, and South Korean Won is a security hologram. These holograms are essentially a three dimensional drawing or photograph. Security holograms are mass produced, but the replication process requires specialized, let alone expensive, equipment to pull off. And while United States currency may not yet make use of holograms, United States credit and debit cards have for decades.
Color Shifting Ink
– The concept is simple, ink that changes color depending upon the angle it is viewed at. One can find small examples of this incredibly new anti-counterfeiting technology on newer United States currency. Take a close look at the “100” at the bottom right hand corner on the front of a 100 dollar bill. Also check out the eagle emblem. From one angle the ink appears green, from another it appears orange. This confounds scanners, which of course can only view documents from a single angle. Besides the scanner this also confounds printers, which usually aren’t capable of this kind of high-end work.
– You may have noticed something strange about cash when it goes through the washing machine. Unlike your grocery list, your wad of cash doesn’t disintegrate. So why is this? Whereas most paper is made from tree fibers, the paper used to make money is crafted from the fibers of cotton and flax. Money paper is also pressed much more firmly, making it thin and giving it that unique crisp feel. As additional security, cash in the United States also has red and blue fibers mixed into its paper. Suffice to say, this is incredibly difficult for counterfeiters to emulate. You’ve probably also noticed cashiers using those “anti-counterfeiting pens”. What those pens do is color money black when it has been printed on the wrong kind of paper.
– A thin ribbon of plastic or metal may not seem like much, but when it’s embedded or woven through currency it can be a huge deterrence to counterfeiting. Often, the security thread is woven so it emerges alternately from the front and back of the bill. When held up to light, the thread shows as one continuous line. In the United States, the security thread is embedded within the dollar bills and glows bright blue, yellow, or green (depending on the bill denomination) when placed under an ultra-violet light. The thread also makes use of micro-printing, which will be discussed in a moment, with the bill’s denomination and “USA” printed along its length. At its root, the ribbon ensures that the currency can’t simply be printed up on decent paper. That being said, some counterfeiters still sometimes try to use varnish as a way to emulate the security thread’s appearance.
– It’s a concept that probably dates back as far as money itself. If you don’t want your money counterfeited then decorate it with images that are hard to replicate. Back in the day, this simply meant commissioning the most skilled artists in the land. Today, it means creating artwork so intricate in detail that they are beyond the capability of most printers. Artwork that is heavy in fine lines will appear muddied on a counterfeit bill. Backgrounds comprising of countless hexagons will come out blotchy, which in turn also changes the counterfeit bill’s background color. Micro-printed words are especially difficult in replicate in that it’s so easy to tell if they’re counterfeit. Can you read them or not?
Cooperation with Vendors
– In early 2004 a big brouhaha erupted when it was discovered that Adobe had integrated anti-counterfeiting technology into Photoshop. The real commotion, however, was that Adobe had done this at the request of government regulators and international bankers. Some saw this as a step towards Big Brother. Others simply found it annoying to have a warning pop up anytime they scanned currency. The technology was developed by the Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group, a consortium of 27 different major banks found throughout the world. It would be unfair, however, to target Adobe specifically in this matter as it has become known that several graphics software developers have integrated the same technology into their own products. While this may stop smaller counterfeiting outfits (which is good), it’s hard to imagine this technology being much more than an inconvenience to any serious large scale counterfeiting operation.
Whether it be low-tech or hi-tech, protecting the value of our world’s currencies is imperative to the stability of much of the civilized world. Almost funny then, that it should come down to fine art-work, special paper, and exotic ink.