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Summer 2007 Vol. 7 No. 2

Table of Contents

©Comstock/JupiterImagesFighting Fake Money

Options to Combat
Next-Generation Counterfeiters

In five to 10 years, advances in digital imaging technology could potentially allow the casual counterfeiter with little or no counterfeiting experience to operate nearly on the same level as professional counterfeiters. The nation's current countermeasures will fall short and likely fail to stop any opportunist with the right skills and the criminal intent.

To combat this threat, the U.S. government will have to incorporate new security features into our paper currency. A dedicated R&D program will be needed to establish the feasibility of possible new features and to make them ready for implementation, says a new report from the National Research Council. The Department of the Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing currently has no such program.

Previous Research Council reports explored the counterfeiting risks associated with the commercial availability of high-quality color scanners and printers and their likely spread to a wider consumer base. In response, the bureau made significant changes in the 1990s to successfully thwart these threats and as a result, U.S. currency has one of the lowest counterfeiting rates in the world at five counterfeits per million banknotes in 2002.

The new report explores the impending threat posed by emerging digital technologies such as advanced image-processing software, incredibly efficient and accurate printing technology, as well as the ability to communicate counterfeiting methods over the Internet. Rather than recommending a particular strategy or new feature, the report evaluates a range of possible new security features, allowing the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to make the final decision on which ones to pursue.

Some of the features are highly advanced like using nanocrystal pigments to create unique inks that would be essentially impossible to reproduce, while others are less high-tech such as using color-shifting ink, which changes color when an LED is shined on it, or including complex, hard-to-reproduce graphic designs on the bills.

Employing microperforation, currently used by other countries, presents an option that would be almost immediately available to the bureau. The technology uses a laser to create a distinct pattern of holes on bills that is nearly impossible to reproduce without considerable investment. "Smart" nanomaterials or chemical sensors represent some of the more advanced options that could be implemented in the long term.

The report concludes that in order to stay a step or two ahead of the technology available to counterfeiters, government efforts need to embrace a proactive strategy focused on innovation rather than their traditional focus on integrating existing security features.   -- Paul Jackson

A Path to the Next Generation of U.S. Banknotes: Keeping Them Real. Committee on Technologies to Deter Currency Counterfeiting, Board on Manufacturing and Engineering Design, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences (2007, 328 pp.; ISBN 0-309-10578-1; available from the National Academies Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $57.00 plus $4.50 shipping for single copies ).

The committee was chaired by Robert E. Schafrik, general manager, materials and process engineering department, GE Aviation, Cincinnati. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Bureau of Printing and Engraving.

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Copyright 2007 by the National Academy of Sciences