On November 17, U.S. Secret Service revealed that $30 million in counterfeit money had been uncovered and seized in Peru on November 15. This is quite the historical counterfeit money bust: it is the largest amount of counterfeit money ever seized by the Secret Service.
It is often said that the act of counterfeiting money is as old as money itself. No matter the type of currency used throughout history – whether it was the metal coins used in Lydia in 640BC or the cowry shells that were used as currency in Orissa, India until 1805 – there was sure to be someone intentionally attempting to pass off a counterfeit version as the real thing.
Just a little over 5 months into 2016 and there are already multiple discoveries of counterfeit money operations, several of which had produced over $1 million in counterfeit money.
The following is a list of the top 5 counterfeit money stories so far this year, starting with the largest counterfeit money operation. At the end of this list, there are a bonus 3 counterfeit money stories. These stories do not involve large counterfeit money operations, rather, they are used to highlight that counterfeit money can appear anywhere, anytime, from anyone, not matter how small the amount.
It should be noted that these counterfeit money stories are those that have been disclosed – there are likely many more counterfeit money operations yet to be discovered or publically disclosed.
Ever since the signing of an armistice in 1953 that put a stop to the fighting in the Korean War, North Korea and its activities has more or less been a mystery to the world. What little is known about the country is inherently grim: the county is internationally considered to be one of the worst offenders when it comes to human rights and continually tops the list of the “World’s Most Isolated Countries.”
Even lesser known than human rights atrocities is exactly how North Korea funds its economy. Although North Korea participates in legal economic activities, such as selling natural resources, analysts agree that the level of these legal activities is nowhere near enough to sustain a country the size of North Korea. Indeed, there has been evidence that North Korea has been profiting from the illegal drug trade for several decades.
Eventually, in a search to find more sources of income, North Korea figured out something that counterfeiters around the world have already figured out: manufacturing counterfeit money is much more profitable and less risky than producing and selling drugs.
And thanks to the fact that North Korea has physically segregated itself from the rest of the world, they directed their efforts to counterfeit money production - without the rest of the world catching on – and got good, really good at making counterfeit money. So much so that when North Korean counterfeit bills slipped into foreign circulation, no one was the wiser; and when the world finally did catch on, they were dubbed as “supernotes” – because they were so good that they were virtually indistinguishable from real money to all but the most sophisticated of counterfeit detection equipment.
And that is a major problem.
For decades, Colombia was known as the world leader in counterfeit money production. For the last several years, however, thanks to the collision of a variety of factors, Peru has overtaken Colombia as the counterfeit money production leader of the world. In a nutshell, Peruvian counterfeiters have access to cheaper materials and labor, are subjected to law enforcement and regulations that are, in comparison, more lax and less effective, and, by all accounts, are simply more meticulous when it comes to counterfeit money production than anyone else.
It was last year that I heard a prominent loss prevention professional - a name that many in the industry would instantly recognize as a keynote speaker at conferences and seminars - say to me: "You can't expect your cashiers to be able to prevent fraud from occuring in your stores." Or something along those lines. The conversation occured at the FraudFighter booth at the NRF Loss Prevention show in June of last year, so I may not remember the exact words he used. But the general gist of the comment was the same.
According to a March 11, 2015 Secret Service estimate, 0.25% of money that is currently in circulation is counterfeit – and with $1.36 trillion in U.S. dollars circulating worldwide, that means as much as $3.4 billion could be counterfeit.
The main purpose of the Secret Service - established by Abraham Lincoln in 1865 - was not, somewhat ironically, to provide protection for the President, but to find and stop counterfeit currency from circulating around the country. At the time the Secret Service was established, an estimated 33%-50% of all U.S. currency in circulation was counterfeit. Thanks to updated security features on U.S. currency as well as strict regulations on machinery capable of producing currency, the prevalence of counterfeit money in circulation has been drastically reduced.
Although the ability to successfully counterfeit bills has been inhibited compared to a hundred years ago, there is still quite a lot of counterfeit money in circulation (as mentioned above), especially in foreign countries due to lax regulations surrounding currency production machinery and the high-margins counterfeit currency is capable of pulling in, particularly in poorer countries.
The following is a list of the 10 biggest counterfeit money stores from 2015.
Popular culture would have you believe that the Secret Service is an agency whose sole responsibility is providing security to the President of the United States, but they are actually an agency that deals first and foremost with financial crimes – mostly counterfeit money. In fact, the Secret Service was initially created not as a protection detail outfit, but as a method of counterfeit cash suppression.
It is the Secret Service who is called upon whenever counterfeit money turns up. And, if you’re following the news, counterfeit money turns up quite often.
Scientists out of the National University of Singapore have found a method of utilizing nanohole technology to potentially prevent the counterfeiting of documents, credit cards, currency, and ID cards. The new technology was designed to incorporate over 34,000 nanoholes on an "ultra-capacity nano-photon sieve" surface. This surface would ensure that holograms could not be replicated by counterfeiting fraudsters.
Counterfeit money has been around as long as authentic money. Even some of the very first western coins were not exempt from counterfeiting, and realistic-looking plated copies have been found. Prior to paper money, counterfeiting was actually quite time-consuming and involved mixing nearly worthless base metals with genuine silver or gold. With the advent of paper money, counterfeiting became easier and more profitable. Today’s fraudsters simply need the right kind of paper, a good printer and decent computer graphics skills to print their own fake bills.