Combating Counterfeiting As the Department of the Treasury, Federal Reserve and U.S. Secret Service unveil a newly designed $10 bill enhanced with improved security features, we explore the world of counterfeiting and how lawmakers manage to stay one step ahead.
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Combating Counterfeiting

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Combating Counterfeiting

Combating Counterfeiting

Combating Counterfeiting

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As the Department of the Treasury, Federal Reserve and U.S. Secret Service unveil a newly designed $10 bill enhanced with improved security features, we explore the world of counterfeiting and how lawmakers manage to stay one step ahead.

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The federal government adopted various anti-counterfeiting techniques in creating a new $10 bill. hide caption

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This morning at a ceremony on Ellis Island, the US government unveiled the new 10-dollar bill. It's more colorful and sports a youthful-looking Alexander Hamilton, as well as an image of the Statue of Liberty and the inscription `We the people.' Like the redesigned 20- and 50-dollar bills, the new 10-dollar bill is supposed to be super-safe and almost impossible to counterfeit.

If you have questions about the new bill or about counterfeiting in the United States, our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. And our e-mail address is

And for more on the Fed's latest efforts to thwart fake greenbacks, we turn to Eugenia Foster(ph), the cash manager for the Federal Reserve. She joins us by phone from New York.


Ms. EUGENIA FOSTER (Cash Manager, Federal Reserve): Thank you so much.

NAYLOR: That's a great title: cash manager for the Federal Reserve.

Ms. FOSTER: It gets me a lot of good cocktail-party chatter.

NAYLOR: Let me ask you about this new 10-dollar bill. Is it--how is it safer or more secure than the one that I've got in my wallet right now?

Ms. FOSTER: Well, Brian, we've enhanced the features to make them safer and easier for people to use. What we're trying to do is to have everyone be aware that if they use those features, they can protect themselves from taking counterfeit notes. So, for example, if you look down on the right-hand corner and tilt your 10, we want people to look at the fancy ink that's down there in the corner that changes color from copper to green. So that's a very sort of discreet and subtle feature that people can use without, you know, wasting a lot of time verifying their note. They also, on this--if you've seen the image, we've enhanced the watermark space by creating a frame in the image so that people will know right where to look for the watermark, which is a portrait in the paper that matches the engraved portrait of Alexander Hamilton that they see in the center of the note.

So they can look for those two features, or they can look for the threat that's embedded in the note which, when they hold it up to the light, there's a thin strip running down the note that says `USA 10.' So we've enhanced these features so that they'll be easy for people to use, and hopefully will give them a good protection.

NAYLOR: And so these were all in the current bill, but you've just made them a little bit better in this one.

Ms. FOSTER: We've made them, I think, more user-friendly.

NAYLOR: Mm-hmm. And when can we expect to see these new 10s in circulation?

Ms. FOSTER: We're going to look for them early in 2006.

NAYLOR: Uh-huh. And what happens to the old ones?

Ms. FOSTER: Well, they'll continue circulating, because all--the Treasury and the Federal Reserve have never recalled any currency design that's out there, so all of them will remain valid as long as they're in circulation. What usually happens is they'll--you'll continue to see some of the older designs for about two years; that's generally how long they last. Eventually, we'll pull out the last few stragglers. But at the beginning of the process, for about two weeks, we put out nothing but the new ones, so that people get used to seeing the new ones, and then as time passes they'll both be in circulation together.

NAYLOR: What's--let me ask you a little bit about the reason for this change. Obviously, it's making it more user-friendly, but there's been a problem, I guess, with counterfeiting the older 10-dollar bills.

Ms. FOSTER: Well, the basic reason that we do this is actually to stay ahead of emerging counterfeit threats. So what we want to do is be prepared for the things that we foresee on the horizon, particularly as computer technology gets more sophisticated, because as you can imagine, today, because PCs and all the kinds of graphical software are so sophisticated that people are able to make copies of documents, and we and to make sure that currency has the best features in there to protect people from this threat.

NAYLOR: Mm-hmm. What's the scope of counterfeiting in the US? How much money are--is made each year?

Ms. FOSTER: Well, last year, we--the Secret Service seized about--actually, we found in circulation about $44 million in counterfeit currency, which when you consider that there are $730 billion dollars of US currency in circulation, it's a relatively small problem. Now, of course, it's a problem for anyone who accepts a counterfeit note because they suffer a loss in that case. So we consider every instance of counterfeiting to be a problem. But overall, in general economic terms, it is not a significant crime.

NAYLOR: And is it just--it's not just a crime, though, in the US; it's a crime internationally.

Ms. FOSTER: Indeed, and as much as about two-thirds of the value of US currency circulates overseas, so we have a job of educating overseas users as well as our US citizens who use our currency.

NAYLOR: Eugenia Foster is the cash manager for the Federal Reserve. She joined us by phone from New York.

Thanks very much.

Ms. FOSTER: Thank you. I appreciate it.

NAYLOR: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Will these new security measures work? Or is it only a matter of time before the counterfeiters catch up to the feds? We turn now to Wayne Victor Dennis, a former counterfeiter and author of "The Counterfeit Millionaire." He joins us from our New York bureau.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. WAYNE VICTOR DENNIS (Author, "The Counterfeit Millionaire"): Hi.

NAYLOR: Tell us a little bit about how you go about making fake money. Is it--it's not an easy process, I guess; otherwise, everyone would do it.

Mr. DENNIS: Yes. It's quite a complicated process. I basically taught myself when I originally printed the $15 million I printed in 1992. And I agree with Eugenia about a lot of the responsibility does fall in the hands of the person who accepts it, and that's why in the book I listed quite a few of the security features of genuine currency, so that if people who accept the money, especially, like, change people in Las Vegas at all the casinos--if they would pay attention to the currency they accept, they would be able to stop it and possibly catch the counterfeiter him or herself. And so...

NAYLOR: Mm-hmm. Catch them as they--or shortly after they pass the money.

Mr. DENNIS: Either while they pass it or after they pass it. They have quite a bit of security at casinos, and there's time when I've passed currency in even food courts and shopping malls, and the handler, the person at the register, had scrutinized the bills on a few occasions, and it worried me, and I left and didn't come back. And eventually, if people will check they money more thoroughly by going over the guidelines that the Secret Service puts out and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving puts out, and learn about the security features, they'll be able to stop it before it even gets into circulation. And that would probably thwart quite a few counterfeiters from wanting to do it in the first place.

NAYLOR: Mm-hmm. I'm just wondering--do--does changing the bill, as the Treasury is now doing with a new 10-dollar bill following--they put out new 20s and 50s--does that increase the degree of difficulty for counterfeiters, or is it only a matter of time before you catch on and you figure out the tricks and are able to duplicate the new ones?

Mr. DENNIS: It certainly does help, and there's more than a dozen security features on the genuine bills. And I always go back to the theory that whatever can be made by one person can be duplicated by another. There are some great technological advances in the new security features; however, it just takes a little ingenuity and thought and anyone can reproduce it. Probably the best security features right now are the watermark and the color-shifting ink. And...

NAYLOR: Go ahead. I'm sorry.

Mr. DENNIS: If people would learn more about that--it's so fast and easy to check the watermarks, and I do it right at the bank and I say, `I'm sorry to in--I hope I don't insult you, but I need to check my money,' and I check it all the time.

NAYLOR: Let's take a call now. Ruby, you're on the line with us from Hillsborough, California. Thanks for calling TALK OF THE NATION.

RUBY (Caller): Yes. I'm interested in something. I lived down in San Diego for nine years. What happens if somebody does falsify these and they go and they cash them over in, say, north or south Baja?

NAYLOR: In other words, they'll take the money and move...

RUBY: In other words, what if they use states in Mexico? They're (unintelligible).


RUBY: And same thing would happen in Texas. What happens--if an American has a bank account over there, then that money is not good.

NAYLOR: Right.

RUBY: Because the last person--if I remember right, the last person to get a bill is the one that is stuck with it.

NAYLOR: Wayne Victor Dennis, do you have any sense of what happens if you--if a counterfeit note is passed overseas and who's responsible outside the country?

Mr. DENNIS: I--from--I'd like to say from my research that the foreign governments aren't so strict on counterfeiting as the US is.


Mr. DENNIS: Bogota, Colombia, right now produces some of the finest counterfeits in the world, and they produce...

RUBY: That's right.

Mr. DENNIS: ...billions of dollars' worth.

RUBY: Yes, that's what's happening.

Mr. DENNIS: And so the government, if they really wanted to stop them, they could raid pretty much every home in Bogota and find these counterfeiters that are putting out the super notes, especially the 100s. They're so good that they pass in and out of US banks continuously, and no one catches them. And you have to know all your security features with--and go over them with magnifying glasses to find out if it's actual genuine or counterfeit.

NAYLOR: When you were in the business, how did it feel to use the fake money that you printed, and what did you use it on?

Mr. DENNIS: Well, I would certainly say that every single bill that you--that a counterfeiter would pass--it gives you butterflies in your stomach, because you never know: Is that the bill that's going to get you caught? And I would like to say that I only cashed them at fast-food establishments, alcohol establishments and casinos, 'cause I believed that the casinos didn't care if they hurt people's financial futures, letting them drain out their ATMs and spend their whole paychecks gambling, and the fast-food industry, I believe, peddles food that's not that healthy, and then alcohol establishments who serve alcohol to people who eventually end up ruining their life. So I only passed it at those particular establishments.

NAYLOR: Well, thank you.

Wayne Victor Dennis is "The Counterfeit Millionaire." He joined us from the New York bureau. Thanks for being with us.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News in Washington. I'm Brian Naylor.

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