Advances in technology have created some of the most sophisticated, counterfeit-proof currencies in history. However, these same leaps in technology keep counterfeiters fast on the trail of the latest wave of security improvements and attempts to keep them at bay.
United States currencies are among the most popular in the world. Despite some recent setbacks, the mighty Greenback is still seen as the most secure store of value and is circulated more outside of the U.S. than inside its borders. One estimate detailed that more than 75% of the nearly $600 billion in $100 bills circulates outside of the U.S. Due to its popularity, it is one of the most counterfeited currencies, but also one of the most difficult to fake.
A slideshow on the website popsci.com from a couple of years ago interviewed a convicted counterfeiter for his thoughts on the integrity of the U.S. dollar. It illustrates the sophistication of the technologies to protect the bills, but points out a number of weaknesses that counterfeiters look to exploit. Color-changing ink can be replicated by mixing glitter in a blender, "high-quality printers and scanners" can assist in copying hard-to-create images, and simply taking a watermark from a $5 bill and affixing it to a $100 bill as both use the same image. Printing small images is also easily copied, as our security threads, though the Federal Reserve has plans to embed even more images to stay ahead of the game.
Best of the Best
Each year, the International Association of Currency Affairs (IACA) holds an awards ceremony for currencies and individuals that have made great leaps in protecting the integrity of currencies and the technologies that go into creating and manufacturing them. In 2011, it voted the Bank of Uganda as the winner of the best new banknote. It highlighted the first major redesign in more than two decades and added security features. It has noted security features that are both visible as well as hidden within the notes. These include raised printing, serial numbers, water marks and a security thread that is inside the note and has the denomination printed on it. It also has certain "iridescent" features that show when the note is held at an angle.
For 2011, runner ups included the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and the Philippines Central Bank. The 2010 winner was the Clydesdale Bank in Scotland. It also gave awards for important new security features. This included a hologram that detailed "depth and movement" and pixel watermarks that gave a three-dimensional look that changed, based on angle and lighting. Currencies that combine the latest technologies with features that are difficult to fake end up themselves the most counterfeit-proof. In addition to U.S. currencies, those from Kazakhstan, Mexico, Sweden and Hong Kong have also been listed as the most difficult to fake.
The Bottom Line
The IACA awards provide some of the best insight into the currencies and technologies that are proving the most difficult to fake. The simple fact that they represent new technologies means that it would take counterfeiters time to replicate, if they are able to at all. From the perspective of the currency thieves, it makes one wonder whether all the effort is worth it and that devoting the same level of energy and attention to legal businesses might be as, or more, profitable than pursuing such illegal activities.