Forgers get last laugh over funny money

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

The next time the pub landlord or supermarket check-out worker tells you your tenner is a dud, don't despair, they have almost certainly got it wrong.

Most anti-forgery devices used by supermarkets, shops, pubs and clubs to detect fake money are next to useless and can give false readings, a senior member of the national counterfeit currency unit warned yesterday. But despite the machines' limitations some police forces are continuing to recommend their use and manufacturers still sell them.

Detective Sergeant Stephen Putman, of the National Criminal Intelligence Service's (NCIS) counterfeit currency unit said: "These devices are bad news because they don't work. They're a nonsense really. They are doubly unreliable because they can reject genuine notes and allow through counterfeit ones. Some crime prevention officers are still recommending the pens and ultra-violet [UV] lights - we tell them they are totally unreliable." In the three years to 1994, the amount of counterfeit money circulating mushroomed by more than 200 per cent. Last year pounds 18m was seized.

The most popular anti-counterfeit currency device uses UV light to illuminate the notes. The machine, which costs from pounds 30, is supposed to identify fakes which, unlike the genuine article, contain chemicals which will fluoresce under the light. However Det Sgt Putman said that all forgers now use dull, anti-fluorescent paper.

Genuine money can also be "corrupted" if it comes into contact with the whitener, which is found in substances such as washing powder. Last year, about pounds 20,000 was sent to NCIS which had been wrongly identified as fake money.

The other common device used, the marker pen, is supposed to spot dud money by leaving a brown stain in reaction to starched paper. But again counterfeiters have copied the Bank of England and no longer use paper with starch.

ACO Electronics Ltd, who manufacture UV machines, acknowledge the shortcomings. Gordon Scott, part of the company's design section, said: "I could go into any shop that had an ultra-violet light machine with a fist full of counterfeit money and they would accept it." Because of the problem the company is about to produce a new anti-forgery device that uses a normal light and magnifying glass.