American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society



Funny Money: The Fight of the US Secret Service Against Counterfeit Money

Colombian Counterfeits

Colombia, with its drug cartels, is considered one of the world’s centers of the production of counterfeit dollars. Often hidden in the mountains, the production facilities are hard to detect. Despite the dingy underground locations, the workmanship of the bills is good. On the black market such bills sell cheaply as part of the drug trade and other organized crime.

The Secret Service recently broke up a major operation in Colombia, in which the process of bleaching and reprinting notes can be seen in detail. By bleaching a note with an abrasive cleaning material, the ink printed into the cotton-based paper will disappear. As a result the paper will feel thinner, the watermark will disappear and the security thread will be lost as well. Counterfeiters print a new yellowish watermark on a note and add it to a second bleached note, which has a fake thread glued into it. The two notes are then glued together and give the appearance of a genuine $100 note.

$1 Bleached on one side only (Courtesy of the US Secret Service)

$1 Bleached on both sides (Courtesy of the US Secret Service)

One can still see the outlines of the original printing. The note also feels thinner than the original.

Bleached note with fake watermark of Benjamin Franklin (Courtesy of the US Secret Service)

Bleached note with fake glued security strip (Courtesy of the US Secret Service)

Bleached note with counterfeit $100 print (Courtesy of the US Secret Service)

Two bleached notes glued together, printed with the counterfeit $100 designs (Courtesy of the US Secret Service)

Photo of a seized bleaching machine (Courtesy of the US Secret Service)

The machine has a roll wrapped with steel wool, through which genuine notes are moved.

Photo of graffiti remover which is used for the bleaching process (Courtesy of the US Secret Service)

Photo of drying printed notes from an offset machine (Courtesy of the US Secret Service)

Photo of offset printer with counterfeit currency stacked up on the floor (Courtesy of the US Secret Service)

Counterfeit $100 note from South America (Courtesy of the US Secret Service)

This good quality counterfeit note was printed with plates on an offset machine and comes from a similar case in South America.