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In Depth

Counterfeit currency

Making money the crooked way

Last Updated November 15, 2006

Features to stop forgers

Quick facts

Counterfeit bills are turning up across the country in smaller denominations. In 2005, 85 per cent of fake banknotes passed were 5s, 10s or 20s.

New security features on upgraded bank notes:

  • Metallic holographic stripe
  • Watermark portrait
  • Colour-shifting thread woven into the paper
  • See-through number
  • Enhanced fluorescence under UV lighting

» More

Currency counterfeiting has never been so serious that it's threatened Canada's economy. Still, the Bank of Canada has had to redesign all the country's banknotes to address the problem. Consumers, businesses and the Bank of Canada got quite a jolt in 2001 with the discovery of a sophisticated counterfeiting ring operating near Windsor, Ont. These counterfeiters turned out mounds of $100 bills of such high quality that millions of dollars in funny money made its way into general circulation before the ring was broken up. Many businesses quickly decided to refuse all big bills.

It may seem like most stores still won't accept your $50 and $100 bills. But the Bank of Canada says large bills aren't being turned away as often as they used to be. Its latest retail survey shows that 97 per cent of retail outlets will accept large bills. That's up from 94 per cent in 2002.

Businesses may be more willing to accept the larger notes because more now have portable counterfeit detection systems in place at their cash registers. Also, fewer counterfeits are being passed. The RCMP says 402,303 counterfeit notes were passed in 2005, down from 553,000 in 2004. The Bank of Canada says that trend lower is continuing in 2006. (To put this in perspective, there are about 1.35 billion notes in circulation.)

As more and more retailers subject their higher denomination bills to closer scrutiny, the counterfeiters have turned to the lower denominations. More than 85 per cent of the fake bills passed in 2005 were 5s, 10s, and 20s. That's why you may have noticed that some retailers now routinely check all bills. The better-quality counterfeits, however, can still slip by some detection machines.

Financial institutions find a lot of the fakes. But they report that counterfeit credit cards are a much bigger problem for them than counterfeit currency. In 2005, counterfeit cards cost them $280 million — dwarfing the $9.3 million lost from phony money.

But the Canadian public still thinks of counterfeiting as a big problem. A 2006 survey done for the Bank of Canada found that 35 per cent of the people contacted believed they would receive a counterfeit bill in the next six months. A 2004 survey found that 13 per cent of respondents said they had been offered or had received a counterfeit note at some point in their lives. RCMP figures show that more than a half-million counterfeit notes were finding their way into circulation as recently as 2004. That's far above what the Bank of Canada's own internal guidelines views as acceptable. The bank says the chance of receiving a counterfeit bill is a small fraction of one per cent. But it knows even a few fakes can hurt confidence in the currency.

The Bank of Canada credits its phased-in introduction of upgraded security features for part of the drop in overall counterfeiting. Metallic holographic stripes, watermark portraits, colour-shifting threads, a see-through number, and enhanced fluorescence under ultraviolet lighting are just some of the new features the central bank has added to try to foil would-be forgers. But it's an ongoing battle as the currency printers try to stay ahead of increasingly sophisticated counterfeiters who take quick advantage of every advance in copying, scanning and printing technology. A further banknote redesign is scheduled, beginning in 2011.

Security features:

The $5 bill was the last in the current series of currency notes to get its security upgrade. The new $5 note was released into general circulation on Nov. 15, 2006.

The enhanced security features of the new $5 note build on earlier enhancements introduced in 2002.

With the release of the upgraded $5 note, all of the bills in the current Canadian Journey series have received their security upgrades. Here's how the features look on some of the other notes:

© Bank of Canada/Banque du Canada. The new $100 bill was introduced in March 2004
© Bank of Canada/Banque du Canada. The new $20 bill was unveiled in August 2004
  1. When the bill is tilted, brightly coloured numerals (100) and maple leaves will "move" within the holographic stripe. There is a colour-split within each maple leaf.
  2. Watermarked portrait. Hold the note to a light and a small ghost-like image of the portrait appears to the left of the large numeral (100).
  3. Windowed colour-shifting thread. Hold the note to the light and a continuous, solid line appears. From the back of the note, the thread resembles a series of exposed metallic dashes that shift from gold to green when the bill is tilted.
  4. See-through number. Hold the note to the light and the irregular marks on the front and back will form a perfectly aligned number 100.

The bank unveiled a new $50 bill on October 13, 2004 and put it into circulation a month later.

© Bank of Canada/Banque du Canada. The new $50 bill was unveiled in October 2004

In 2005, the Bank of Canada upgraded the $10 note.

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Marketplace:

Counterfeit money

CBC stories

New $10 bill designed to confound counterfeiters
Jan. 17, 2001
Bank of Canada kills $1000 bill
Sept. 26, 2000

External Links

Counterfeit:
Bank notes on the Bank of Canada site
Counterfeit detection from the Bank of Canada site
The Bank of Canada Act
The Currency Act
Tracking the travels of your money:
Where's Willy

(Note: CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites - links will open in new window)

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