Wave of counterfeits sweeps France as forgers crack the euro code

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The Independent Online

After initial discouragement, counterfeiters have cracked the code of the euro and continental countries - especially France - face a rising tide of fake bank notes and coins.

In the first half of this year, 300,000 dud euro notes were withdrawn from circulation. About 30 per cent of them, 90,000 notes, were discovered in France. Most - 80 per cent - were printed in other countries.

After the introduction of the euro in 12 countries on 1 January 2002, police detected a fall in the amount of counterfeit notes and coins in circulation in euroland. The notes were claimed to be the most advanced in the world, incorporating anti-faking devices from holograms to special inks.

Now Europe's counterfeiters - and some elsewhere in the world, including Colombia - appear to have overcome the problems. A determined faker can buy a machine which reproduces the holograms in euro notes for €50,000 (£34,000) - which would be covered by a print run of a few minutes.

The amount of counterfeit currency found in the 12 euroland countries is 600,000 notes a year - about the same as before the single currency was introduced. There has been an even sharper rise in recent months of fake euro coins.

France identifies more false notes than any other country but is not a large producer, according to French police. As a country with a large economy, at the crossroads of Europe, and a popular tourist destination, France sucks in euros- including the fake ones.

The printing of convincing counterfeit euros appears to be big business, especially in eastern Europe, Italy and Colombia.

Almost all the fake notes are in €50 and €20 denominations. Notes of €100 or €500 attract more attention in shops and tend to be shunned by counterfeiters.

French police say there are a range of counterfeiters, from amateurs to organised crime gangs. With relatively cheap modern photocopying equipment, it is possible to produce crude, fake euro notes. Police say medium-sized operators can produce up to 100,000 notes a year and organised syndicates are able to churn out even more.