How counterfeiting works
By Marshall Brain
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) The allure of counterfeiting is obvious. If you could do it without getting caught, you would be able to print your own money and buy whatever you want with it.
And thousands of teenagers discover every year that you can create fake money with a PC, a scanner and a color inkjet printer in about 10 minutes. Therefore, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing has been redesigning bills recently to try to thwart counterfeiters. The Bureau has even announced an optical device, a little like a hologram, that will be attached to $100 bills in 2008 to make counterfeiting even harder.
What if you would like to start a life of crime by creating your own counterfeit currency? How hard is it, and what will happen when you get caught? Let's find out.
The new $20 bills are the latest, high-tech counterfeit-proof bills from the U.S. Treasury. They first entered circulation in late 2003. If you zoom in on different areas of the bill and look at them closely, you can see a number of features designed to deter "casual counterfeiting." The entire bill is imprinted with a hexagonal pattern of lightly colored, extremely fine lines. These lines are invisible to the naked eye but give different parts of the bill different tints. Other parts of the bill contain different types of microprinting - print so small that you can't really see it without a magnifying glass. Two places on the face of the bill contain sparkly, color-shifting ink.
A normal PC scanner can capture all of this with good detail. When you try to print your scanned $20 bill, however, you discover the problem. It comes out looking all wrong to the naked eye. The colors are off and the images look muddy. You can see why it looks wrong when you put your new counterfeit bill under a microscope. For example, many fine details are completely lost. The light-colored hexagons turn to a brighter shade because the printer can't reproduce lines that are fine enough or light enough. And the sparkly ink does not come out at all. The anti-counterfeiting measures actually work.
You might try to hand your fake money to a waitperson in a darkened bar or nightclub.
As soon as the person touches the counterfeit money, however, it will be obvious that something is wrong. That's because of the paper. People know what money feels like. People who handle money constantly, like bank tellers, cashiers and wait staff, can feel a counterfeit bill instantly if the paper is wrong. That "feel of money" comes from at least three different things that make the paper in paper bills unique.
First, the normal paper that you use on a day-to-day basis (newspaper, notebook paper, etc.) is made from the cellulose found in trees. Paper used for money, on the other hand, is made from cotton and linen fibers. Second, the paper used for money is thin compared to normal paper. And third, the paper used for money is squeezed with thousands of pounds of pressure during the printing process. This makes it even thinner, gives it a texture from the ink, and gives newly made bills a special crispness.
As you can see, it takes some work to create a good counterfeit bill. Because it is so hard to make a good counterfeit bill, capture is often instantaneous for people who are casually counterfeiting. They usually make mistakes when they create counterfeit bills: The colors are off, the paper is wrong, etc.
Unfortunately, counterfeiting is not a minor offense. It is not like running a red light, or even shoplifting. These crimes are misdemeanors handled at the local level by local police and courts. Counterfeiting, on the other hand, is a federal felony handled by the U.S. Secret Service.
The reason why counterfeiting is treated as such a serious crime is because money is so important to our society. When you get caught counterfeiting - and if you are counterfeiting you WILL get caught eventually - the punishment can be extremely harsh. For example, the prison term can be up to 15 years. There will also be fines and restitution.
In other words, you can't get something for nothing, at least not if you are trying to do it by counterfeiting.
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© 2007, How Stuff Works Inc. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.