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Counterfeit money: Still going strong

Joan Goodchild | Dec. 8, 2009
Counterfeit money printing activity continues in several global hot-spots. Chad Wasilenkoff, CEO of banknote-maker Fortress paper, talks about where and how counterfeiters are still successfully plying their trade.

In which countries does a lot of counterfeiting take place? How widespread is it?

Maybe five or ten years ago, most of the counterfeiting of banknotes was done with US dollars. There were several large hubs in South America, particularly Colombia. The Secret Service in the U.S. is in charge of securing and maintaining the dollar. So they had teams in Columbia to stop these counterfeiting operations, which were mainly underground and basically just made fake money all day.

There were several ways they were accomplishing it. One was to take a real one dollar bill and bleach it out, scrub it with toothbrushes and other chemical agents, and then over print it as a US$100 bill.

But things are starting to migrate. China is really starting to pick up with counterfeiting operations; not only with their own currency but also other international currency. There is also a steady amount of counterfeiting of the Euro, which is typically done in Eastern Europe. And in the UK, the problem is not that bad with the exception of one counterfeiter. Apparently this counterfeiter has been operating for about 15 years and they cannot track him down. They have done all of the forensic analysis and they know it is the same counterfeiter. He was previously counterfeiting 20 British pound notes. So they changed their series. And unfortunately he was quickly able to adapt. I'm told he accounts for about 80 per cent of the counterfeiting in the UK. But they can't seem to track him down.

Also, in the industry there is something we call a 'supernote,' which is an incredibly high-end counterfeiter that we think is a full-scale commercial operation with notes coming at high volume that are high quality. There is hypothesis that there is one now based in North Korea that is turning out US$100 bills of such high quality they are as good as the original.

You have stated you think the banknote world is a secretive world that needs to be more open? Why do you feel that way?

The industry in general is sort of an old-boys club. Even with our mill around for 130 years, we are considered a new entrant. A lot of the European banknote printers have been around 300 or 400 years. These companies are well established and they have a monopoly on a global level. They like to keep things quiet and they don't want to upset the apple cart for obvious reasons; when you have a monopoly, it's a strong position to be in and the longer you can maintain that, the better.

My view is: I dislike delusion. And if we lift the veil of secrecy and the process becomes more open, we'll be able to raise the quality and reduce counterfeiting.


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