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Battling conterfeiting
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Now with three different versions of United States currency in circulation, it is more difficult than ever to casually determine if a bill is counterfeit. Add the high tech printers that are now widely used and are relatively inexpensive, it makes a haven for money counterfeiters.

Prior to 1996, U.S. currency was relatively difficult to duplicate because of the paper used and the intricate detail that made up the artwork. Affordable printers were good back then, but not as good as now, so counterfeiters had a more difficult time. The older paper currency did not have the security features as are used today, like the color shifting ink, the imbedded plastic security strip and watermarks, so in that regard, the pre-1996 currency presented fewer counterfeiting obstacles to overcome.

The security strip is interesting and one of the better security features. In a $5, the strip glows blue under a black light, the $10 glows orange, the $20 glows green, the $50 glows yellow and the $100 glows red. The strip is, for now, nearly impossible to duplicate, and coupled with the watermark and color shifting ink, the new bills are relatively safe - for now, anyway. Humans are creative and ingenious, so it is only a matter of time before the new currency can also be counterfeited. By that time, perhaps, our country will have transitioned into a currency-less environment featuring all-electronic (micro-chip) financial transactions. This, of course, will also be subject to problems. As long as humans are designing security features for the financial transaction systems and mechanisms, other humans will be figuring out ways to defeat those same systems.

As I stated previously, there are three different versions of bills in circulation. There are still plenty of the more traditional "pre-1996" bills. In 2004, the fives, tens and higher bills changed significantly, and then in just the past few months even more changes have taken place. The "new" money has somewhat of a foreign look (more colorful and less uniform markings), while the pre-1996 money is more uniform, less colorful with a more conservative appearance. The fact that there are these different bills makes it more difficult for people to know the difference between "real" money and the fakes. In other words, with just one bill type, people became accustomed to their feel and appearance. Adding two more versions to the fray has left people less confident in discerning the fakes from the real thing - even if the bills themselves are almost impossible to duplicate.

Counterfeiting is on the rise, and it is expected to continue to do so. The victim, not the bank or government, will always be the one that unwittingly comes into possession of the counterfeit bill. To be sure, neither the government nor any bank will reimburse you for a bill that was passed on to you. Therefore, it is very important to inspect money before accepting it. The higher denominations are more frequently counterfeited; however, criminals have figured out that people are becoming more leery of the larger bills. They are now printing more of the $5 bills, hoping that people will pay less attention to them.

Getting back to the indicators of counterfeit money, the paper upon which real currency is printed is nearly impossible to duplicate. In addition to the security features described above, real currency paper has pieces of colored thread imbedded in it, and the feel of it is rather unique. Even the best printers cannot duplicate the imbedded threads, but unless one carefully inspects a bill, they may not notice the difference. Furthermore, some of the paper stock now on the market is starting to come close to having a feel similar to that of legitimate currency. It just means that you have to be that much more vigilant about inspecting the bills you receive to be sure that you do not end up being duped.

Counterfeiting is a federal offense. The United States Secret Service has the primary responsibility for handling counterfeit cases. Local police officers, however, routinely investigate these kinds of cases and end up coordinating efforts with U.S. Secret Service Agents. In any event, the creation of, or knowingly possessing or passing counterfeit bills, is a felony, and because of the serious implications and threat to the integrity of our system of commerce, the United States government takes these matters very seriously. Agents of the government are anxious to make examples of counterfeit violators through aggressive prosecution and by seeking lengthy prison sentences.

To protect yourself from becoming a victim of counterfeit bills, practice the following steps: be suspicious, take time to look at and feel the money you receive; check for obvious things like duplicate serial numbers; be especially suspicious of older bills (those bearing the older, pre-1996 designs) and bills of larger denominations; simply refuse to accept older bills (most of the pre-1996 money that is actually legitimate has been taken out of circulation and has been destroyed already); and, look at bills in the light for the watermark and security thread. The color-shift ink is very hard to fake. The security stripe and watermark are impossible to duplicate with an inkjet printer; if you believe you are receiving a counterfeit bill, call the police.