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Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

Posted August 31, 2016 8:55 AM by HUSH

Cash is an interesting byproduct of contemporary economies. The assorted rectangles of ink and paper have wildly different values despite themselves being objectively worthless materials. Instead the numbers on the bills represent buying power.

The U.S. dollar, which became the world’s reserve currency in 1947, was formerly backed up by a gold reserve. This practice was eliminated in the 1970s, as global recession meant international countries began exchanging their cash for gold, which reduced the influence of U.S. currency. Instead, the U.S. made a deal with Saudi Arabia and subsequently OPEC for all oil transactions to use U.S. money. This created a foreign demand for U.S. dollars, and this remains how U.S. currency retains international value today.

Yet over the past 20-plus years, highly-advanced manufacturing and counterfeiting have also undermined the value of U.S. $50 and $100 bills, and remain a threat going forward. These notes are dubbed “supernotes,” as they of such high quality that they appear more authoritative than genuine bills.

The supernotes are made of the same hard-to-produce material, a hybrid 75% cotton, 25% linen fiber paper blend. The notes are also printed by intaglio printing, where the metal plates have lines engraved or etched, which are filled with ink, and then are compressed to the paper. Intaglio printing also gives U.S. notes their rough texture as the inks dry just slightly above the surface of the paper. Most counterfeiting operations use cheaper, less effort-intensive printing techniques, such as inkjet, offset or laser printing, that cannot replicate the intaglio texture.

These supernotes are also engineered to include security features. This includes the exclusive security microfibers found in current U.S. bills, as well as correct watermarks, security strips, and microprint lettering incorporated into real U.S. bills. Even the optically variable inks (OVIs), which cause bills to look green in one light or bronze or black in another, have been emulated. Typically, advanced OVIs and intaglio presses are only available to government agencies for document production.

Of course, there are some very minute differences. The printed quality of supernotes sometimes actually exceeds that of a real note. For example, the hands on the clock tower of Independence Hall are actually sharper and more clear on a supernote, a lamp on the street nearby is better defined, and on the front of a supernote, the letter N in the word ‘United’ has a small font misprint.

Nonetheless, supernotes are practically impossible to identify without instruments. Supernotes are confirmed by the U.S. Secret Service with mass spectroscopy, near-infrared analysis and microscopic inspection.

Evidence suggests that North Korea was likely responsible for the printing and distribution of the notes, possibly beginning back in the 1970s. Motivations were hopes of undermining the U.S. economy, while also paying for goods and products with the fake money. North Korea has a well-known counterfeiting industry that includes narcotic and prescription drugs, cigarettes and designer brands.

Another U.S. $100 bill redesign in 2013 has vastly slowed the discovery of supernotes. This Vice article suggests that North Korea has either abandoned printing counterfeit U.S. notes (in favor of Chinese notes, it seems) or they are now so good at it that fakes can’t be detected.

Turns out, money is only as good as its manufacturing.

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#1

Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

08/31/2016 10:55 AM

How does the average layman know what they're supposed to look like when it seems like they change so often?

Maybe the only answer to stop counterfeiting is to just print such small denominations that they cost more to print then they are worth.

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#19
In reply to #1

Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

09/03/2016 7:47 PM

Drop paper all together and return to using coin.

  • durable
  • cost effective to make
  • and a built in work out carrying your money around
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#2

Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

08/31/2016 11:29 AM
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#3
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Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

08/31/2016 11:45 AM

Very true...

$12 trillion U.S GDP vs. $50 million in collected supernotes (source)

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#4
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Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

08/31/2016 12:55 PM

On the grand scale sure, $50 million is not much. But for the average person like you or me how far would just $500K go in your life? Or $2 million?

$500K would easily pay for everything I want and carry me for another 20 years of doing absolutely zero further work for pay.

$2 million would carry me to death on a lifestyle well beyond my expectations and needs and I have a good 40+ years to go.

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#5
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Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

08/31/2016 1:14 PM

Yeah but you're not a North Korean....We put counterfeiters in prison here, where you would be required to work for very little money, for the next 20 years....haha

http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-counterfeit-money/

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#10
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Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

08/31/2016 11:25 PM

" We put counterfeiters in prison here,"

No we don't we just put the ones who get caught in prison or give them government jobs helping to counter counterfeiting.

Saying we put counterfeiters in prison is like saying we put druggies and drug dealers in prison. Maybe we do to some but most everyone knows a few running around that should be dead easy to catch and lock up yet the authorities never do.

Besides, If you make a machine that makes a certain product and I then design my own machine to make exact replicas of your product that fall within or even exceed your products specs am I really counterfeiting your product or am I just unwanted competition who has shown that I am clearly as good if not better at making your product than you are?

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#7
In reply to #2

Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

08/31/2016 9:58 PM

Interesting site. It seems that nobody agrees on what money is. If you'll write me a check for a billion dollars and I write you one for a billion dollars, we'll both be unbelievably rich!

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Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

08/31/2016 10:14 PM

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#12
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Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

09/01/2016 9:37 AM

Personally, I have not seen greater humor in-or-on a check since:

When I first saw it, I thought it was just a gag... until seeing the story behind it.

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#13
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Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

09/01/2016 4:20 PM

See you at the yacht club...

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#6

Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

08/31/2016 2:01 PM

It's crazy how fast the technology has to keep changing to be a step ahead of the counter fitters. Seems like our money gets a change every few years now.

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#9

Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

08/31/2016 10:35 PM

N. Koreans counterfeiting Chinese money. About the only good news I've heard this month.

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#20
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Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

09/05/2016 2:09 PM

That's hilarious!

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#11

Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

09/01/2016 4:48 AM

I have always wondered how paper would compare as an alternative to hard drives as a storage medium for large quantities of data. "Microprint 1/42,000th of an inch high" sounds like a good start.

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#14

Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

09/01/2016 7:31 PM

Question? Do counterfeiters also sequentially serial number their bills or do all the bills have the same serial number?

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#15
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Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

09/02/2016 8:47 AM

Several years ago when I was still in NJ we had a flood of counterfeit twenties that were from NY and all those serial numbers were the same. These bills were being sold on the street for something like 20% of face value. The printing quality was good but the paper didn't feel right. A good number of people got nailed trying to pass them.

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#16

Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

09/02/2016 11:13 AM

On the drive home last night I heard an interview with Kenneth Rogoff, who has a new book out: The Curse of Cash. He didn't talk about counterfeiting during the interview, but that's certainly could be another reason to get rid of paper money.

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#17
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Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

09/02/2016 12:05 PM

Really? I never had anybody hack my wallet.

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Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

09/05/2016 5:18 PM

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#22
In reply to #17

Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

09/05/2016 8:40 PM

Ever hear of a pickpocket. ! ! ! Really old technology but it works. ! !

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#18

Re: Counterfeiters Can Produce Undetectable Fake U.S. Money

09/02/2016 8:11 PM

Here's something that might keep you from sleeping well at night if you think about it too much. The money in your wallet is just pieces of paper that only have value because everyone believes they do. And your money at the bank is just some records stored in a computer somewhere documenting your balance. The world economy is all based on trust and common delusion.

Hope I didn't ruin anybody's weekend.

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