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Copying Machines Spur Counterfeiting

December 10, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Counterfeiting of U.S. currency has doubled annually since 1989 as the result of sophisticated color copying machines that turn out bills that only experts can identify as funny money, a new report says.

To head off this growing wave of phony bills, the National Research Council, in a report released Thursday, said the government needs to alter the American buck so it’s harder to copy and to make bad currency more easily spotted.

There are anti-counterfeiting measures now used in the printing of U.S. money, but they are inadequate to prevent reproduction by photocopying machines and printing scanners now on the market, the council found. And it warned that even better copying equipment is being developed.

The council is the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, a congressionally chartered private organization.

High-quality paper, fine-line engraving and special printing techniques limited major counterfeiting in the past to craftsmen with access to special printing presses. But not anymore, said Glenn Sincerbox of IBM, chairman of the NRC committee that studied the problem.

″These deterrents have kept counterfeiting to a reasonably manageable level in the United States, but with the advent of advanced reprographic systems and their continuing evolution, these deterrent methods are no longer sufficient,″ said Sincerbox.

The report said that bills made on commercially available color copiers are ″very impressive and ... would have no trouble in passing all but the most demanding visual inspection.″

The purported face value of counterfeit bills produced with copying machines is now doubling each year, the report said. If this continues to increase, phony money in circulation could grow to $1.6 billion to $2 billion a year by the end of this decade.

Norma Opgrand, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in the Treasury, said that about $17 million in counterfeit bills were passed last year. The report said $6 million to $8 million of the bad money was made on copying machines.

There is $360 billion in genuine U.S. currency in circulation worldwide, Opgrand said.

The NRC advocated using new printing and production features specifically designed to prevent bills from being copied:

-Patterns that confuse most copying machines. These patterns cause copiers to produce designs that are not on the original bills, making it easy to spot counterfeits.

-Shifting inks that appear to change color when the angle of light is moved. When reproduced on a copying machine, this shifting color would not transfer to the phony bills.

-Modification of security threads incorporated in bills in 1991.

-Embedding optical fibers in the paper.

-Watermarks.

-Holograms, the variable, three-dimensional pictures now found on many credit cards.

-Inks that glow under special light.

-Embedding images in color copiers that would be invisibly reproduced on copies made from those machines.

-Equipping machines capable of copying currency with sensors that would recognize banknotes and inhibit their copying.

The report was requested by the Bureau of Engraving. Tom Ferguson, the bureau’s assistant director for research and development, said it was ″very well done and represents a good picture of the current situation.″

He acknowledged that counterfeiting is doubling annually but emphasized that it still represents a minute fraction of U.S. currency in circulation.

″It has doubled from a small base,″ said Ferguson. ″The economic impact of counterfeiting now is very small.″

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