Counterfeiting is not a new phenomenon – it is a crime that has been around since ancient times. The act of copying and printing fake currency is just about as old as currency itself. At one point counterfeiting was so serious and widespread that it was considered treasonous and punishable by death if the perpetrator was caught. This was because many believed that anyone who disturbed the market with fake money was putting the nation’s economy and its general stability and strength in serious jeopardy.
The ancient Romans were frequent victims of fake currency. The majority of Roman currency consisted of pure gold and silver coins. Counterfeiters would mix various metals, cast them as coins and plate them with either gold or silver to create a much less valuable copy of the money which was called fourrée. Old coin molds have been found that prove the existence of a widespread counterfeiting operation by criminal minded inhabitants of the Roman empire. Authentic Roman coinage was struck, not cast with molds.
In America, during the American Revolution and the Civil War, counterfeit money was abundant. The British counterfeited Continental American money and flooded it into the money system to the point where the currency became worthless. This is where the expression “Not worth a Continental” came from. During the Civil War over 1,600 state banks were responsible for designing and printing their own currency, so eventually there were so many different varieties of currency floating around (approximately 7,000) that it was virtually impossible to tell a real from a fake. More than one-third of the currency in circulation at that time was phony. Finally in 1862 the U.S. Government had to establish a national currency to fix the counterfeit problem, but counterfeiters easily copied the new currency. The amount of fake currency circulating around the country at that time made it necessary for the government to establish the Secret Service in 1865, a division responsible for stopping the spread of forged money in the United States.
Recently, the counterfeit problem is again on the rise due to new technologies in printing and design software. However, the spread of fake bills has been suppressed by creative measures by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the division of United States government that is responsible for the actual design and printing of money. The Bureau has recently recrafted the 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollar bills with bigger faces, multi-colored paper, holograms, and reflective inks that change color depending on the lighting. They also have implemented the EURion constellation on newer bills, a technology that makes it impossible to duplicate the money on a photocopier. The two main purposes of these measures is to make it easier for the average person to recognize a fake when presented with one, and to discourage attempts to copy the bill.
While an ever growing technological environment has made it easier for law enforcement officials and the general public to stop the spread of counterfeit money, technology has also made it easier for criminals to carry on with their illegal actions. It is extremely important that governments maintain a proactive and ever changing policy towards thwarting the spread of bogus currency.