Follow the Money: The Threat of Counterfeits to the American Dollar

When is your money not really money?

Over the course of human history, there have been relatively few things as stable as the U.S. dollar.

Backed by the Federal Reserve and the $19 trillion economy it represents, and with over $5 trillion held as reserve assets by foreign central banks, the relative strength of the U.S. treasury means that when you have a dollar in your pocket, you can be confident in its value.

Except, that is, when the bill you have isn’t actually a dollar.

The overall reliability of the American dollar is precisely why it’s also the most targeted by counterfeiters, and the $100 bill is the single most counterfeited  piece of currency in the world. And, in some cases, those counterfeiters are so good that even many banks can’t tell the difference between the real notes and the fakes.

Despite a wave of high-tech deterrents built into U.S. bills, like hologram strips and color-shifting numbers, so-called “Super Notes” are almost undetectable, printed on the same cotton fiber as real bills using the same printing presses, plates, and ink as the genuine article. After a Super Note was discovered in the Central Bank of Taiwan in 2004, there was a run on banks that led to millions in $100 bills being taken into banks for exchange.

The battle between counterfeiters and the people responsible for creating legal tender is age old, dating all the way back to the American Revolution in the United States. As long as there’s money, you can be sure someone out there will be trying to find a way to illegally print their own.

Up Next: 7 Tips for Spotting Fake Money