That crisp pounds 20 note is a fake. How can anyone tell?
Hi-tech criminals can produce forgeries that will fool bank cashiers - and even some anti-counterfeit machines, writes George Campbell
Saturday 09 March 1996
Although many shops and filling stations use a variety of devices, including marker pens and ultra-violet light screens, to detect the cruder fakes, the best forgeries, including pounds 10 and pounds 20 as well as pounds 50 notes, are now almost impossible to detect by eye, thanks to advances in sophisticated computer technology and colour printing. It is estimated that some pounds 100m worth of fake notes are now washing around in the system.
The Bank of England plays down the gravity of the situation. "It's not serious," said a spokesman. "Less than l per cent of the pounds 18bn of genuine money in circulation is fake."
But critics disagree. John Hall, head of security at the 1,700-strong Co-Operative Wholesale Society chain, reckons it is getting worse: "Over the last year, counterfeit money through our stores has jumped 20 per cent," he said.
"The quality of the forgeries has improved enormously and the counterfeiters have switched from photo-copying to computer-generated graphics, which give a cleaner image and are more difficult to detect."
A genuine note should feel crisp, have a metallic strip, a watermark and sharp clear printing. Forgers at the sharp end of technology can now reproduce all these qualities.
The consumer, and not the banks or building societies, takes the hit when a forged note is discovered. Under the Forgeries and Counterfeiting Act (1981), anyone passed a fake banknote must hand it to the police with no compensation. Passing on fake notes is a criminal offence.
Banks and building societies, however, are not legally obliged to reimburse you even if they issue you with forged notes through their cash machines. Also, counterfeit notes are now so sophisticated that even experienced cashiers at the counter - not to mention their security equipment - cannot always tell the difference between a real note and a fake.
The Building Society Ombudsman is about to to give a decision on a landmark case involving Bradford & Bingley and a Yorkshire housewife. Tracey Cullen took legal action after the society's Selby branch wrongly accused her of including 19 forged notes in a pounds 4,800 cash deposit.
Tracey explained: "It was a nightmare. I was shamed and humiliated by a member of the Bradford & Bingley staff in front of other customers. The woman cashier questioned 19 notes. I was detained in the branch with my eight-month old daughter for 50 minutes. The notes were taken into the manager's office and the police were called."
Mrs Cullen was then frog-marched out of the branch in front of other customers and taken to the police station. After her arrest, police called in experts from Yorkshire Bank to examine the suspected forgeries.
"The police attitude changed completely when the bank said the notes were genuine. I was released on bail pending the outcome of forensic tests by the Bank of England," she explained.
"Next morning, the police informed me the tests had proved conclusively the notes were genuine and the society had dropped the charges."
Counterfeit notes are also plaguing small businesses, according to Stephen Alambritis of the Federation of Small Businesses. "We have heard strong rumours that the banks are instructing their staff to feed fake money back into circulation. Quite often, hard-worked bank staff will sometimes hand the forged note back to the customer to avoid embarrassment."
While acknowledging the problem, the Bank of England argues vehemently against compensating those who lose out to the counterfeiters. The Bank is convinced counterfeiters would turn to making cash out of the compensation fund. "It would be like asking us to underwrite the crime," says a spokesman.
"Big high street concerns have invested heavily in anti-counterfeiting security," says a spokeswoman for the British Retail Consortium. "Staff are trained to spot dud notes, and the bigger stores will also get regular visits from the police warning them of the latest scams."
A British company has developed a new micro-processor system able to detect forged notes. In trials, it picked out 4,000 fakes provided by the Bank of England and the police, and the makers say it will detect counterfeits which defeat systems that use ultra-violet light or marker pens. Only 10 per cent of the test notes were caught by ultra-violet systems.
John Wilkinson of MEI Electronics in Wokingham, Berkshire, which has developed the new Cashguard, said: "Some of those systems can be fooled by coating a fake note with ordinary suntan oil products."
Cashguard costs pounds 250 and can fit on to a check-out desk or till. A note is inserted in a slot and light with a wide range of wavelengths is shone on to it. Sensors measure how much light is reflected back, and at what wavelengths.
The micro-processor analyses this combination and compares it against a stored profile of the characteristics of valid notes, sounding an alarm for fakes and suspect notes.
24 April 2015 07:30 PM
01 May 2015 12:00 AM
More than £60m was paid out to more than 2 million prizewinners this month
28 April 2015 05:20 PM
Why can’t we just have open and honest charges, without all the cross-subsiding?
28 April 2015 03:50 PM
With the pound at a high against the euro, it pays to buy now before uncertainty post-election
17 April 2015 06:00 PM
23 April 2015 12:00 AM
Experts disagree about the 7% increase over the past year
22 April 2015 07:29 AM
Too many mortgages are being sold with misleading gimmicks
21 April 2015 09:54 AM
The firm’s revenues slumped by a third to £217 million in 2014
21 April 2015 12:00 AM
The average quote for a buildings and contents policy has fallen by 3.6 per cent
10 April 2015 07:00 PM
15 April 2015 12:56 PM
Joining Barclays Blue Rewards costs £3 a month but then lets customers in for handouts of up to £15 a month
15 April 2015 07:27 AM
A charity is urging anyone struggling financially to see if they could get help from the state
13 April 2015 11:39 AM
Video: With an election looming, a hung parliament could hit sterling
03 April 2015 08:00 PM
03 April 2015 08:00 PM
Q&A: What’s the best way to invest for our baby?
Crowd-to-let: How crowdfunding sites can give investors a slice of the property market for £500
Simon Read: 'Seven Families campaign offers an escape from financial and emotional distress'
After the election: What will Britain's financial future look like on 8 May?
General Election 2015: How you vote next week could affect your finances
- 1 Oxygen-starved 'dead zones' with no marine life up to 100-miles long discovered in the Atlantic Ocean
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
- 4 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 5 Tory activist asked to step down after Labour candidate Rupa Huq is 'manhandled' while questioning Boris Johnson on the campaign trail
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
iJobs Money & Business
£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...
£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...
Day In a Page
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
Surrounded by the Western fells, this five-bedroom Georgian home retains many original features including panel-plastered ceilings, sash windows and fireplaces.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park