Enterprising criminals turn small bills into big bills

By Tin Lap

have been a long-time reader of Canadian Coin News and would like to briefly follow up on Bret Evans’ article in the April 18 issue regarding the recent appearance of counterfeit polymer $100 notes in Ontario’s Niagara region.

Evans did a great job providing a detailed timeline regarding the first counterfeit Frontier series $100 notes from British Columbia as well as an update on what counterfeiters have been up to recently.

It would be accurate to say the Bank of Canada’s choice to incorporate Australia’s polymer substrate and hologram technologies into our own series of banknotes has been quite successful. Not only are these technologies greatly extending the lifetime of a typical note but they have achieved their intention of thwarting would-be counterfeiters. According to the most up-to-date currency counterfeiting statistics from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), apart from a one-time spike in 2014, the number of counterfeit Canadian banknotes being passed and seized has been steadily declining since the introduction of the Frontier series.

The RCMP’s most up-to-date data shows 2015 was an all-time low of about 20,000 notes passed and seized from a high of about 60,000 in 2011; however, in this unending game of cat and mouse between the Bank of Canada and counterfeiters, a new threat has emerged that may reverse this trend.

‘REALLY GOOD’ COUNTERFEIT NOTE

I was recently contacted by a friend, who works at a financial institution, to view a “really good” counterfeit note that she had seized that day. With the decline of the number of fakes and the knowledge that counterfeiters’ best attempts have been subpar at best, my response was that I would try to come by in the next couple of days. Then two words came out of her mouth that turned my “next couple of days” into “when do you close?”

She said, “It’s polymer!”

I rushed over to her office I kept thinking, “Could it be? Have counterfeiters really cracked the polymer puzzle?” I arrived at her office nearing closing time and sat down, barely able to contain my enthusiasm to see the note. Fully expecting it to be a polymer $100, like the one in Evans’ article, she placed a single $50 polymer note in front of me. I picked it up and examined it; it seemed like nothing out of the ordinary, it “felt” right and it looked like a standard well-circulated polymer note that had seen better days.

I examined the hologram and the window, wondering how the counterfeiters were able to so perfectly replicate it, when I noticed something: the tactile numbers that run across the window and hologram were of a $5 note with the portrait of Wilfrid Laurier. I mentioned this and she was amazed; she didn’t even notice that. So I asked her what tipped her off that the note wasn’t genuine. She pointed out a part of the note along the border between the body of the note and the transparent window, which seemed to be peeling off. Upon looking at it more closely and pulling on it, it stretched but stayed attached—for the most part—to the note.

‘RAISED NOTE’

It seems these smart criminals bleached $5 notes while preserving the hologram, then used some really thin, yet strong plastic, printed the image of a $50 onto it and affixed it to the note. This explains why, after some circulation, the sticker had started peeling away from the window. So what we had in front of us was not a counterfeit, but in fact a raised note.

You might be thinking, isn’t a raised note a counterfeit? Some will argue it qualifies as a counterfeit note, since it was fabricated outside of the Bank of Canada’s contracted printing facilities; however, there is a distinction between the two as a raised note is a legitimate note that has been modified in some way to give the false impression of a higher denomination, whereas all parts of a counterfeit note would have been created outside government printers, using everyday materials.

To be clear, however, raised notes are not a new phenomenon as there have been many examples of this type of activity dating as far back as 1878, when someone took the time to convert a standard Dominion of Canada $1 note into a $4 note, a denomination that did not exist among Canada’s national currency. These changes were more obvious than the subtle differences in the $5/$50 polymer note.

The Bank of Canada and the public must be mindful regarding the security features found on the current series of notes and ever-vigilant when accepting higher-denomination notes. It is my hope that the Bank of Canada takes this new threat into account when it is designing the 2018 series. Something as simple as having the security windows either differently shaped – to prevent someone from just bleaching and flipping the note around – and/or having them located on different parts of the note, such as $5, $10, and $20 on the right and $50 and $100 on the left, could deter the raising of notes.

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