Counterfeit Money – How’s It Made?

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The idea of counterfeit money has always seemed an abstract concept to me, something that criminals do and films portray, but that doesn’t really filter down into the daily lives of regular people. I’d never, ever seen one before in my 23 years, even though I’ve used currency in at least 11 countries. But then today, I came across my very first counterfeit coin – a £1 coin, with the Queen on one side and a bridge on the other, and it’s definitely a fake.

Look at the Queen’s head below. Nope, there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight – the Queen’s face has a double-outline. The bridge on the other side also has a double-outline, and on the rim of the coin, there are no words inscribed.

Click the thumbnails below to view the coins up close:

How’s It Made?
While this was a very exciting event (yes, all new experiences excite me :P), it got me wondering something I’ve never thought of before – how is counterfeit money made? (Of course, I only want to know out of academic interest, and to write this article – don’t look at me like that!)

Using Google, I set out to find out. According to This Is Money UK, the counterfeit money situation is now so bad in the U.K. that one in 40 £1 coins are fake, and apparently there are a lot more forgeries floating around Britain than there are in other parts of Europe, with only 0.1% of Euros being faked.

April 8th UPDATE: BBC News reports today that according to coin testing companies, now one in 20 £1 coins are fake and that there could be 73 million fake coins on the streets now!

Different Types of Counterfeit Coins
While coin-collecting sites focus more on how to detect forgeries (a common method being to whack the coin with another one and listen to the sound it makes), eBay coin dealer savoncoin explains on his eBay guide that there are three types of counterfeiting possible:

A CAST COUNTERFEIT is a replication of a genuine coin usually created by making molds of the obverse and reverse, then casting base metal in the molds. A seam is usually visible on the edge unless it has been ground away.

A STRUCK COUNTERFEIT is a fake coin produced from false dies.

A CONTEMPORARY COUNTERFEIT is a coin, usually base metal, struck from crudely engraved dies and made to pass for face value at the time of its creation. Sometimes collected along with the genuine coins, especially in the case of American Colonial issues.


Heavy Duty Machinery
Unfortunately, besides finding out how many counterfeit coins there are now and how you detect them, it’s really not very easy to find out how they’re made. After trawling through a lot of links though, an article by the Providence Journal gave me a rough idea. State police in Warwick, Rhode Island are auctioning off the coin-making machinery of famous coin counterfeiter Louis B. Colavecchio (who’s so famous he was featured in the “Breaking Vegas” documentary on the History Channel and became federal consultant to the U.S. Mint) . According to the article, the machinery includes:

“…a blanking tool that cuts the coins’ shapes, and an EDM machine that burns the image onto the metal, a Mario Dimaio coining press, a roller mill machine, an electric plating machine, the strip stock metal used to make coins, and a coin comparator device, made for the gaming industry, used to validate coins for slot machines.”

Printing Seems Easier
There might be a lack in resources on how to make counterfeit coins, but I did find a very funny little piece on how to print your own notes:

# Scan both sides of a one hundred dollar bill into your computer.
# Print several copies out on a laser printer at the highest possible resolution.
# Use to pay for drinks at children’s lemonade stands, antiques at stores run by very elderly people, or others who are likely to accept your homemade currency without question.

While I’m sure some people must have tried this, How Stuff Works says that it’s actually a lot harder than you think to pass off forged money, as it’s difficult for laser printers to detect intricate coloured lines and get the right feel for the paper. The website also reports that the number of teenagers who try to counterfeit money every year has gone up with the advent of modern technology, but that they’re usually very stupid and only print the money on one side!

Biggest Copying Conspiracy in the United States
Apparently someone did get away with it though. Ricky Scott Nelson and 8 other men were indicted in 2002 in Philadelphia. They bleached actual $1 and $5 bills while using tape to cover up the watermarks and detectable fibers, and then they used an office photocopier to print $100 and $500 onto the bills. Pretty good going, as they managed to fool everyone for three years! In case you’re getting ideas though, there’s no point trying this one as governments have long since introduced security measures to prevent this from happening again.


Make Your Own Money, Legally
This doesn’t mean that you can’t make your own money though. Some communities in America have already developed their own forms of currency in order to get people to support their local shops before buying from national chains, according to This is currently going on in Ithaca in New York, Toronto, Lawrence in Kansas, Berkshire in Massachusetts as well as communities in Japan and even Britain, although I haven’t seen anything on this.

The idea of the currency isn’t to replace national currency, but to complement it. The relatively poor Santi Suk community in Thailand has recently joined the bandwagon, because according to Epoch Times, local currencies “can’t be banked away to earn interest, so the users keep spending it, providing a boost to the area’s economy”.

Novelty Fun
As long as you’re not counterfeiting money though, there’s nothing wrong in personalising your own money, which you can do at sites like Festisite or the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The Royal Mint is also hosting a competition to design a 50 pence coin for the 2012 London Olympics, by April 24th.

Coin Machine Photo courtesy of
Ithaca Currency Note Photo courtesy of

    5 Responses to “Counterfeit Money – How’s It Made?”

    1. Taiki says:

      Interesting. ;)
      Now if only I can print my own money, get it recognized and become an overnight millionaire…

    2. kishon says:

      very interesting i’m wondering if u will follow up on the story especially about communities making their own currency

    3. Sam says:

      iiii didn’t know they did that in toronto /:)
      i will look for that. it’s interestingg.
      follow up on how governments keep money secure?

    4. Christine says:

      I really like the idea of “local” currency, as a way to promote businesses, but I’d think there would be a counterfeit problem there too, especially if it was successful.

      I hardly ever even use cash anymore though, relying mostly on my check card.

    5. Dorna says:

      Oh my goodness this is so interesting, you were given a fake coin? Oh my! I can’t believe those guys got away with printing fake money for so long! Hmmm….well governments do potentially make up fake money and pocket most of it so who can blame them..