Making Money Really Safe

It’s amazing the lengths to which the federal government must go to protect the money supply (No jokes about it not being worth it!). 

In my lifetime I have seen 6 or 7 major changes in the way things are done to keep the criminals from literally printing themselves a huge payday. It is also a bit astounding how far the criminal element will go to make a dishonest buck – at some point the effort just can’t be worth it. Counterfeit $5 bills? Is it really worth it?

There have been changes in the ink formulations, ink colors, changes in where the artwork is displayed, and strips of another material placed inside the bill paper.

Now the next possible changes may make only large scale, extremely well financed operations possible, which leaves out most all but those financed by foreign governments.

The latest idea to thwart theft by counterfeiting is to put thin film transistors on the paper, made of gold, alumina, and certain organic materials, which would, under certain circumstances yield voltages at certain points on the bill. The ability to do this is widely known, as the same thing is happening in other endeavors, where transistors are being put on things other than fiberglass substrate to enable things like clothing that generates electricity to be made possible.

The story where this was pointed out has the figure on the amount of counterfeiting that takes place, just in case you weren’t aware of how large a problem it is –

Anti-counterfeiting measures in modern paper currency include tricks like holograms, never-drying ink, textured printing, un-copyable colors, watermarks, woven-in fibers, and many more special features–each incrementally added to the mix as counterfeiters get cleverer at copying the previous generation of defenses. Despite all these advances, counterfeit cash still thrives–in 2000 alone the Secret Service seized over $126 million in fake bills produced in foreign countries before it hit the streets in the U.S., and in 2006 the estimate was that for every $12,500 in circulation, $1 was fake (a figure that rapidly adds up when you realize around a trillion dollars are in wallets and banks).

It is easy to see why the Feds would be so motivated to remove the ability of counterfeiters to profit – it truly is a crime that affects all of us.

The transistors that would be printed onto the bills would be very thin, about 250 nm in thickness, and could be triggered with three volts, easily produced by a battery, making hand held detectors a trivial proposition to make. It is also possible that by altering the dyes, the voltage could be produced with bills being bathed in certain frequency light, making it possible to detect without contact with the bills. (Similar to checking for radiation on something, but much safer than contaminating currency with radiation.)

The idea is in its infancy, and no plans are solidified yet, but the ideas like this will keep the money supply safe against another generation of criminals thinking that they are smarter than the average bear, who will try to filch the picnic baskets full of $100 bills.