Counterfeit detection is certainly the most troublesome and costly responsibility for those in the cash handling business. There is not a country in the world that is not impacted by this criminal activity. Perhaps the only thing more costly and difficult than detecting valid counterfeits is the effort that goes into trying to stay ahead of the counterfeiters. With new technologies and an ever increasing criminal appetite for the “easy dollar” (pun intended!) central bankers are constantly having to evolve and refine both overt and covert security features.
Today at 1PM eastern time, the Bank of Canada will be unveil. Now that we have seen the forthcoming new $100 note, I can begin to imagine what a challenge it will be for the counterfeiter to try and copy it. As summary of the covert security features presents a daunting array of easily verifiable components:
- A large clear window containing a metallic hologram of the bust ofÂ Sir Robert Laird Borden – when the orientation of the note is changed, the hologram changes from monochrome to colour
- Also located in the lower portion of the large clear window is another metallic hologram of a buildingÂ – when the orientation of the note is changed, the hologram changes from monochrome to colour
- A small clear window containing a holographic maple leaf – by placing the small window close to your eye and looking at a single light source, one can see a circular image containing the numerical value of the denomination
- Coloured graphics that bridge the opaque and clear sections of the polymer
- Fine detailed graphics of very high resolution that present on both sides of the note
- High contrast in feel between the overall smooth texture of the note and the very obvious raised ink print features
Based on these covert features I am pleased that Canada will now be able to lead the way in developing currency technology that will all but obliterate the practice of counterfeiting. One basic tenet of counterfeit is that it must cost very little to produce the forgery – the lower the cost the higher the reward for spending them. I can not believe that there is sufficient publicly available technology to create convincing copies of this new series. Although I am sure there will be attempts; likely quickly following the release of the new note, I am equally sure that they will be very poor imitations. There may be some early acceptance of counterfeit as the Canadian public becomes familiarized with the notes, but I expect that will be short-lived. So, I ask again, is polymer truly the media that will ultimately stop counterfeiting? My feeling is that will.
What is really interesting but relatively unknown is the amount of science that goes into counterfeit deterrence. I am not talking about the actual science itself – those details are of course closely guarded secrets. However, a recent newspaper article gave some insight into the scientific efforts The Bank of Canada has been devoting to the cause.
The Bank Scientist
Andrea Firth’s job at the Bank of Canada is to stay a step ahead of the bad guysBy Bruce Deachman, The Ottawa CitizenÂ June 16, 2011
At her interview with the Bank of Canada in 2005, Andrea Firth was asked to give a 30-minute presentation about what she thought a scientist would do at a central bank.
Ironically, now that sheâ€™s actually held the position â€” her official title is banknote scientific adviser â€” for the past half dozen years, she has to be circumspect about revealing the details of what she does.
Thatâ€™s because itâ€™s her job to make counterfeitersâ€™ jobs more difficult; a cat-and-mouse game where by inventing and implementing security features on Canadian paper currency, the gap between real and fake is made as wide as possible, so that the people and machines that handle money can easily recognize the bogus bills.
â€œOur job is to work to stay ahead of counterfeiting and counterfeiters,â€
she says, â€œand that involves chemistry, physics, biology and psychology, in different ways.
â€œWe look to see what the counterfeiters do, what they have available, what they could have available, what we think they will make use of and how they would make use of it. If the counterfeits are getting close to the banknotes, then we start looking at solutions, at what we can buy to put on the banknotes to make them more secure.â€
Firth points to the switch in 1969 to colourful, scenic-themed bills as largely a response to counterfeiting and counterfeitersâ€™ easier access to desktop reproduction techniques. When black-and-white photocopying became ubiquitous, the bank added colour to bills. When colour copying subsequently became a threat, the bank, in collaboration with the National Research Council, developed and added a small patch to bills that changed colour, from gold to green, depending on the angle at which the bill was viewed.
Other technologies used to foil counterfeiters have included planchettes â€” embedded fluorescent green dots; colour-shifting threads made of strips of plastic coated with an optical thin film; raised intaglio printing and braille-like squares that also aid the vision-impaired; watermarks; and holograms.
And when one technology no longer deters counterfeiters, itâ€™s Firthâ€™s job to come up with something that will. With holograms becoming increasingly common, for example, some analysts are now touting nanoholes â€” tiny holes which in butterfly wings block out certain wavelengths of light and produce their familiar iridescence â€” as the next anti-counterfeiting measure.
Mumâ€™s the word, though, on what new technologies will be used in Canadaâ€™s new paper currency, which is officially being announced Monday and will roll off the presses with the $100-bill in the fall. The only information available so far about the new series is that it will be printed on a plastic polymer, as opposed to the cotton-based currency now in circulation. The polymer, while more difficult to counterfeit, will also more than double the life expectancy of bills. Each of the 840 million $20-bills â€” the most popular denomination â€” now in circulation are expected to last three years. The polymer $20s will last seven and a half.
Born and raised in Hamilton, the 43-year-old did her undergrad in chemistry and her PhD in material science and synthesis before heading to University of St. Andrews in Scotland for her postdoc.
Returning to Canada in 2000, she moved to Ottawa and Nortel, where she worked with new materials to make communications faster. Laid off in 2003, she joined NRC, where she used new materials to make energy cheaper. Three years later she was hired by the Bank of Canada to make money more secure.
Counterfeits in Canada peaked in 2004, when an estimated 470 out of every million bills were forgeries. The introduction of watermarks and holograms to the â€œJourneyâ€ series of bills that were issued from 2001 to 2004 saw that number plummet. It now sits at only 35 fraudulent bills per million.
In efforts to keep that number low, Firth works with everyone from banknote suppliers and printers to the RCMP and university professors, the latter helping determine the psychology of how people use money, which in turn can help the bank make spotting counterfeits more intuitive for the public. Security features that are fussy, difficult to use or require special equipment, she says, simply arenâ€™t as effective.
â€œYou have to look at (a bill) to tell what denomination it is, so in that instant you have the usersâ€™ attention. So in that instant, you want them to be able to tell, â€˜Oh, thatâ€™s realâ€™ or, more likely if they get a fake, you want them to say, â€˜Thatâ€™s fake.â€™
She admits sheâ€™ll take no small amount of pride if that happens with the new notes. â€œWeâ€™ve worked hard over the last five years to make as secure a banknote as possible.
â€œA security feature thatâ€™s going out into circulation in November 2011 came from me, came from a concept in my mind,â€ she adds. â€œWhat weâ€™ve worked on, every Canadian is going to touch. Thatâ€™s pretty cool.
â€œIf a security feature that started out on my drafting board ends up on a banknote, Iâ€™ll be doing a happy dance and drinking champagne.â€Â© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen