Secret Service agent discusses counterfeit currency in time for Black Gold

During the monthly Chamber of Commerce meeting, a representative from the U.S. Secret Service demonstrated better methods to authenticate the security features in U.S. currency.

On Sept. 17, during the monthly Chamber of Commerce meeting, a representative from the United States Secret Service demonstrated methods to authenticate the security features in U.S. currency in time for the Black Gold Festival.

Special Agent Paul Buta, of the U.S. Secret Service, said he was visiting Perry County a few weeks ago, and spoke to Captain Jennifer Sandlin, of the Kentucky State Police, and Chief of Police Minor Allen, of the Hazard Police Department, who mentioned that the Black Gold Festival was coming up.

“Traditionally, the big events in Kentucky is where we see a counterfeit influx, the Christmas holidays, Kentucky Derby and summer festivals,” said Buta. “At the Black Gold, most law enforcement will see an influx of counterfeit at that time period.”

He said counterfeiting remains a big crime.

“Counterfeiting was a big deal and still is a big deal,” he said. “Roughly 45-50 percent of the currency in circulation is counterfeit. So, half your money is worthless.”

The high amount of counterfeit currency in circulation, he said, coupled with the large crowd of the festival and the lack of knowledge for recognizing counterfeit money will result in a number of people getting tricked by counterfeiters.

“Most people don’t realize much about our money,” said Buta. “You touch money every day, it is an important part of our lives, but we do it so much it becomes white noise. That’s what counterfeiters want you to do. They don’t want you to pay attention to your money.

Buta said most people only pay attention to the denomination of the bills, not the colors or the details of the notes.

Each Federal Reserve note, Buta said, includes identifiers that serve a variety of purposes, such as designating when a note was printed and which plate was used to print the note. Over time, currency has been redesigned to include more security measures, including fluorescence in the security thread, denomination specific micro-printing, watermark, optically varying ink and fine line printing, said Buta.

This, Buta said, was partially a result of the evolution of computers and technology.

 “We realized then that there might be a problem in the future with technology, so we incorporated new security features in our money,” he said.

Many individuals and businesses often rely on counterfeit pens to test currency, however, the pens do not always give reliable results and can be tricked easily, said Buta. A lot of this, he said, is due to the material that currency is made from. Bills made with materials from the 1930s are not the same materials used today, so they may show as fake when they are actually real, said Buta. A current day $1 bill, he said, can be bleached and changed into a $100 bill and be marked as real because the materials in it.

In an effort to prepare community members for recognizing counterfeit money at the Black Gold, Buta explained a better way to authenticate the security features in U.S. currency — the “feel, tilt, check” method.

First, Buta said, feel the paper. The notes, he said, are not really made out of paper, they’re more of a proprietary blend of denim, cotton, linen and other ingredients. When you move your finger across the note, Buta said, it should feel slightly rough to the touch as a result of the intaglio printing process and the unique composition of the paper.

“Our currency is three-dimensional, it is tactile,” said Buta, explaining that if you make the bill folded into a loop, the engraving can be felt and seen. “If you watch the tellers count money at the bank, where do they place their thumbs? They place it on the portrait, because the edge of their thumb picks up that tactile feeling and that’s how they tell counterfeit. Money is three-dimensional, money has a fingerprint.”

Next, Buta said, tilt the currency to check some of the identifying features. For $10 bills or higher, he said, tilt the note to see the ink in the numbers on the lower right corner change from copper to green as a result of color-shifting ink. The bell in the inkwell of a $100 bill will also change colors. The $100 bills also have a 3-D security ribbon that is woven into the paper, not printed on it, so when tilted you can see tiny 100s in the ribbon move. “The security ribbon is great. Most counterfeiters can’t replicate that and most printers can’t copy it,” said Buta.

Checking with light is also a very helpful precaution, Buta said. When held up to the light, a security thread and watermark will be visible. The security thread is embedded vertically on $5 bills and higher, and is embedded in a different position for each denomination. Each thread will also glow a different color when held under ultraviolet light, said Buta, explaining that the security thread in a $100 will glow red, a $50 thread will glow yellow, a $20 thread will glow green, $10 threads will glow orange and $5 threads will glow blue. Each of the security threads will state what the denomination of the bill is.

Also, he said, denominations $5 and higher will include a faint image to the right of the portrait and those watermarks will be visible on both sides of the note. On denominations $10 and higher, the watermark will match the portrait, and should face the same direction, he said. The $5 note will have two watermarks, both of the numeral five. The $5 bills, Buta said, are the most commonly bleached bills because they have all of the security features.

Checking with magnification is also a reliable form of authentication, said Buta. Micro-printing is featured on several locations of bills and either correspond to the denomination or contain phrases such as “The United States of America,” “USA,” or “E Pluribus Unum.”

Buta said other features are able to be determined upon looking at the bills as well.

“Money is printed in two colors. Money is printed in black and green,” said Buta, stating that the front of the bills are black and the backs are green. Over time, he said, red and blue fibers have been added to the blend, however they are only in small threads and look similar to a tiny hair. The red and blue fibers are never in the same position or location on the notes, he said.

Additionally, Buta said, pay attention to serial numbers on bills. Serial numbers can be sequential, but can not be identical, he said.

Buta, along with local law enforcement agencies, encourage community members to be vigilant and pay attention to their money during the Black Gold, as well as year-round.

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