Counterfeiting is an age-old problem, probably beginning with the first coins made for commerce during Greek and Roman times.
Coins initially were a means of ensuring there was the proper metal content (gold, silver, bronze or copper). It didn’t take long for some people to figure they could reproduce the coin by using either a less-pure metal content or a totally different metal. They made their profit by the difference between their cost to make the coin and what it could be spent for.
The advent of paper money lowered the cost to the counterfeiter because he no longer had to acquire precious metal to mint coins; he just had to hire an experienced engraver to make plates to print the notes.
Governments have reacted to counterfeiters in different fashions, the more extreme being during the Revolutionary War, when some of the currency issued bore the notation “To Counterfeit is Death,” which meant if you were a counterfeiter and were caught, you would be hanged.
Counterfeiting has also been used for political purposes, notably during the Civil War, when Confederate currency was counterfeited to destabilize the Confederate financial system. And during World War II, Germany produced many British and American banknotes, hoping to profit from their use and to upset the financial markets.
Over the years, governments have spent billions of dollars trying to stay ahead of counterfeiters by making copying more difficult. Note the most recent changes to the designs in our currency.
Numerous anti-counterfeiting designs have been incorporated in our notes, such as the watermark of the person on the face of the bill being embedded in the paper, which can be viewed when held to light.
I once had what I thought was a $100 bill, but when held to light, it showed the watermark of Abe Lincoln. Someone had bleached a $5 bill and reprinted the paper with the design for a $100 bill. This would pass the pen test that many businesses use because the paper was correct, but holding it to light revealed it to be counterfeit.
The latest redesign of the $100 bill incorporates numerous anti-counterfeiting features, including the embedded watermark design. However, my experience is that few people take the time to review these features.
It has been proven many times that counterfeiters are just behind any new design in currency, and now comes news from South Korea, where a $100 counterfeit, dubbed the “super note,” has been discovered.
It is purported to be of such high quality it is virtually indistinguishable from the real note by the average person. While its origin cannot by determined with certainty, all fingers are pointing to North Korea, which has been the source of much of our counterfeit currency.
The feeling is it would take a financial investment at a governmental level to develop the equipment necessary to produce currency of that quality. Someone with a copy machine or printer couldn’t replicate the image sufficient to fool people.
Unfortunately, counterfeiting has gone beyond just currency, coins and financial instruments to just about all imaginable things. Pills, clothing, movies, music, anything with an expensive name-brand logo, all are fair game for counterfeiters. Even our lowly postage stamps, the forever stamps used on everyday mail, have been the stuff of counterfeits.
The source of much of the problem is China, which has flooded our market with numerous valueless products. Although our government is aware of the problem, to date they have done little to stem the flow of these counterfeits.
An organization of which I am a member, the Industry Council of Tangible Assets, is working hard to address the problem as it pertains to coins and precious metals, but more needs to be done.
Douglas Keefe is the president of Beachcomber Coins Inc. He and his wife, Linda, operate Beachcomber Coins and Collectibles, formerly in the Shore Mall and now at 6692 Black Horse Pike in the old Wawa building just beyond the former Cardiff Circle in Egg Harbor Township. They have satellite offices in Brigantine and Absecon. Between them they have more than 70 years of experience in the coin and precious-metals business. They are members of the American Numismatic Association, the Industry Council of Tangible Assets, the Numismatic Guarantee Corp., the Certified Coin Exchange and the Professional Coin Grading Service.