Secret Service Counterfeit Lab Combats Forgeries
Employees at the Secret Service Counterfeit lab examine hunderds of counterfeit notes looking for clues to its origin.
Any and every counterfeit bill which is passed in the United States will eventually wind up in the Washington DC lab of the Secret Service Counterfeit Prevention division. Inside, agents and analysts study each bill to determine its unique qualities - for example, they will determine what type of paper the bill was printed on, what type of process was used to print the bill, what inks. They will also catalogue all of the bill's defects, whether it be a faulty watermark or security stripe, or if the seal or portrait are badly replicated. In this way they can associate bills found in different places and at different times.
The Secret Service has a message for anyone thinking about trying it: Don't.
Domestic v. International Counterfeiting
The Secret Service lab uses a high tech computer imaging device which can scan a bill with various frequencies of light.
Since 1995, there has been an explosion in domestic, small scale counterfeits. This is because it is very easy to simply put a bill on a scanner, do some touch ups on a computer graphics program, and print it out on a color printer. For the most part, these bills are not of good quality. The fine detail of a true bill does not appear in a scanned one, and the feel of printer paper is very different than that of a real US note. And while the "countefeit pens" which are available to identify forgeries is easily tricked, these digitally produced bills often do not fool the pens. Because of this, much of the domestically produced fake money is discovered before it ever gets into circulation. And the Secret Service has a message for anyone thinking about trying it: Don't. They aggressively pursue even these casual counterfeiters and they send them to prison.
International counterfeiting is a whole other matter. These operations are usually large scale, involve high quality offset printing, and make sure they get every detail right. There are operations of this type all over the world, but the most common are in Colombia and other Latin American countries, and in some of the countries in the far east. The reason for this is that there are often drug smuggling operations already established in these countries. So along with smuggling in drugs, criminals can smuggle in fake money, sell it in the United States and funnel the profits back, much in the same way they do with drugs.
The quality of these notes is much superior to that of domestically printed notes. For one thing, they often will pay attention to the type of paper they use. Instead of using commercially available paper, these operations will take real currency, sometimes from a different country, sometimes US $1 dollar bills, they will wash the ink from the bill and reprint a US note on the paper. In this way they fool many people with the feel and texture of the bill.
See inside the operation of a cuffed counterfeiter.
The Super Note
Many of the mistakes counterfeiters make can be easily discovered using the naked eye or a microscope.
All of these bills, however, can be identified by the average person using low-tech techniques. An examination of the safety features of a bill will often give away a forgery. Should this fail, a quick zap with a flourescent light, which can be purchased for just a few dollars, will make the security stripe glow and the markings appear. Very few counterfeit bills can successfully pass this test.
There is one bill, however, which is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Folks at the Secret Service call it "The Super Note". Originating in east Asia, a normal person is usually fooled by this note. It has successfully been passed hunderds of times throughout the country. The folks at the Secret Service lab discovered the bill a few years ago and successfully tracked it back to its maker. Now the US is in the process of taking down the operation and putting "The Super Note" out of business.
See how the Department of Treasury is combatting counterfeiting with the new $50
The new $50 bill includes many features designed to combat counterfeiters.