Counterfeiting Ring in Colombia


Police assisted by U.S. Secret Service agents on Sunday broke up a network capable of printing millions of dollars a month of excellent quality counterfeit money and arrested five suspects during a raid on a remote village in northwest Colombia, officials said.

It’s a big industry there:

Fernandez said Valle del Cauca, of which Cali is the state capital, has turned into a center of global counterfeiting. “Entire families are dedicated to falsifying and trafficking money.”


Colombia is thought to produce more than 40 percent of fake money circulating around the world.

Posted on November 29, 2005 at 4:29 PM27 Comments


Pat Cahalan November 29, 2005 6:10 PM

No wonder all of those color laser printers sold on eBay are purchased by people with latin sounding eBay names!

One time poster November 29, 2005 7:22 PM

“capable of printing millions of dollars a month” sounds pretty fishy. Regardless of what they were capable of, I’m interested to know how much they did, in fact, print.

jammit November 29, 2005 8:06 PM

That’s what I’d like to know. How much made it into circulation? How do I tell a fake bill from a real one? What kind of printer were they using. Where did they get their paper stock? What kind of ink were they using? ^-^

john smith November 29, 2005 8:36 PM

note: “The printing plates they were using were very good”

printing plate == physical engravings != color laser jets which the SS alegedly needs to track to counter counterfeiting

Also I’m somewhat curious about many more technical details which I doubt with ever make the press
i.e. I’ve heard that columbians at one point bleached one dollar bills in order to get their hands on the special cotton+linen paper…have they found a bulk source for the paper? are they using a close approximation? Because clearly you don’t do volume bleaching ones (I kinda want to try and bleach a one myself to see if that works or it’s bull and the bill just disolves after too long)

Did they incorporate watermarks? the little plastic strip? the newer bills with colors?

just curious as I recently did a paper on the whole laserjet thing and took the opportunity to reaquaint myself with counterfeiting state of the art 🙂

Keith November 29, 2005 8:47 PM

I find it funny when I see comments such as “How do I tell a fake bill from a real one?” No offense intended in the humor but it is ironic how little about US Currency Americans know. Especially those who receive at the register.

Guess what, you can in fact learn on your own.

Columbians are not the only ones but certainly good at it.


Shawn November 29, 2005 9:01 PM

Keith: I never learned so quickly about counterfeit bills as when I worked behind the register. True, not everyone behind the counter gets trained properly. But I learned very quickly why I’d much rather annoy customers by inspecting their bill closely.

Bruce Schneier November 30, 2005 12:26 AM

“No offense intended in the humor but it is ironic how little about US Currency Americans know.”

It’s the economics. It is not in your best interest to find counterfeit currency in your wallet. You really don’t want to know how to detect counterfeit currency, because you’re not going to play along.

You’ll give money a cursory glance when you receive it, but after that you want to believe it is real. And as long as everyone does that, no one has to learn how to detect counterfeit money.

Anonymous November 30, 2005 5:57 AM

“you want to believe it is real”

I love this.
It’s like people in general don’t want to question things, they just accept what’s being thrown at them. In a lot of situations you are labeled paranoid when asking for a deeper explanation while in fact 99% of the time there’s no ground for being paranoid,still it’s the 1% that ruins your life (or is it the paranoia :s ).

John Davies November 30, 2005 6:48 AM

The Columbians weren’t the first by any means. At the end of World War II Geermany had printed a large stock of British 5 pound notes with the intention presumably of crippling the British economy. These notes were apparently so good that the British were forced to redesign those notes.

What surprises me is that more of this doesn’t go on as it seems to be a simple way of causing economic havoc.

James Stewart November 30, 2005 6:54 AM


The willful ignorance in this case is strategic. The problem is that if you find a forged $100 in your wallet, you’re out $100. If you pass it on to someone else knowingly, you go to jail. If you pass it on to someone else unknowingly, you’re probably OK. Therefore you either inspect money as you receive it or you don’t inspect it at all.

K November 30, 2005 7:25 AM

In the 90’s there was an article about the dollar in some financial paper. The article claimed that some 60-80 percent of cash dollars OUTSIDE the US were counterfeit. It seemed to me from that article that the US government is only interested in keeping the domestic cash “real” and whatever goes on abroad doesn’t matter. Don’t know how things are nowadays, though.

Robert November 30, 2005 8:33 AM

Frankly, I have always wondered how the new anti-counterfeiting bills were supposed to help much, when you can still use the old bills with no problem? I guess that over time the older bills will be gradually weeded out through the banks retireing them, but in the meantime why would anyone want to try to make any of the newer bills? As long as they don’t look new ( some sort of wearing process after they are printed ) then they should be good to go.

Robert November 30, 2005 8:44 AM

And one other comment about counterfeit money. For the consumer, the value of being able to spot a counterfeit is practically nothing. Unless you spot it right when the teller hands you the cash at the bank ( if you get one from an ATM, tough ), or when you are getting change from a cashier. Once you have it in your hand, you are stuck with it.

You can’t get it exchanged by the bank, and if you try to pass it on to someone else then you might get caught.

I’m tempted to get one of those marking pens and every time I go to the bank or get change in 20’s, to check every bill I get from them. Not that I’m expecting to find a bad bill, but just to see the look on their face!

jammit November 30, 2005 11:56 AM

Don’t use those pens. They only detect the presence of starch. If you take a regular bill and lightly starch it, it shows as fake.

Zed November 30, 2005 12:25 PM

The use of a printing plate == physical engravings is not necessarily correct (or perhaps isn’t what might come to mind). It isn’t a big heavy chunk of metal delicately carved out by some old craftsman (like you see in the movies). The creation of a printing plate just involves using a computer generated film negative and using that negative for exposing on light sensitive plate. The ink on the printing press only sticks to the exposed bits on the plate. A plate is basically just thin sheet metal with a special coating on it. Obviously that is an oversimplification, but it isn’t rocket science any longer… nor is it expensive or difficult to acquire the equipment. The printing bits are easy (even the color fade stuff), it’s the special thread and watermark stuff that gets tricky I’m guessing. But seriously, how many people look very closely at a $20 bill?

Bruce Schneier November 30, 2005 2:38 PM

“Don’t use those pens. They only detect the presence of starch. If you take a regular bill and lightly starch it, it shows as fake.”

There just has to be a good scam based on this fact. Can I starch someone’s bills without their knowledge somehow, “prove” that they are fake, and then confiscate them?

jammit November 30, 2005 2:50 PM

I have it! Set up a fake booth in a shopping mall while wearing “official” looking uniforms, and stop people at “random” and confiscate their “illegal” bills or else arrest them. We’re going to need lookouts for when someone with a brain decides to call the real cops. We could make badges that say “Homeland Security” on them.

Chuckles November 30, 2005 9:50 PM

nothin’ like millions of dollars with the same serial # …
Anyone up for the return of the bartering system ?

jammit November 30, 2005 10:23 PM

Oops. Forgot to add that most old bills have some starch in them from being passed around from person to person. Something similar to finding traces of cocaine. I suppose if I supply my own pen that has been spiked with starch it will always show as a bad bill.

jammit November 30, 2005 10:33 PM

“Colombia is thought to produce more than 40 percent of fake money circulating around the world.”
And the USA gub’mnt makes the remaining 60%. All of our money is a token. It represents worth. The way counterfeiting will hurt is if I give something to someone for worthless tokens. Nationally, if extra money was found, then the next batch printed has fewer bills making the counterfeiters eat the cost of printing it. Too bad the little guy gets screwed.

Scott Peterson December 1, 2005 8:03 AM

It would be interesting to know what the total effect counterfeiting has on the US money supply. As we all know, one way to define inflation is the government simply printing more money to pay its bills. I am sure a decent amount of this Colombian counterfeit cash makes its way to the US. Some of it is certainly used to invest in legitimate US assets as one goal of drug traffickers is to launder their cash into legit assets.

Great post, Bruce…

Bruce Schneier December 1, 2005 8:31 AM

“It would be interesting to know what the total effect counterfeiting has on the US money supply.”

I believe that counterfeit bills are taken into account in any money-supply calculations. Doing otherwise would be foolish, after all.

REgediT February 18, 2006 2:51 PM

counterfeiting takes place in the US more then people or any public reports may suggest, the fact is, it’s just to easy to do a sophisticated printing job and some people have more time and money to invest and it sure doesn’t take much of either to get started. A report I heard* somewhere claims that many counterfeiters simply remove ink off a 1$ bill using solvents I will not list here, and once they end up with a blank piece of paper they then simply do desktop counterfeiting, or use offset printing techniques, everything for a counterfeiter is readily available, including inks, printing equipment, security threads, and watermarked paper, a criminal can by no means be stopped from printing, it’s the fact that one day, any day, he will be caught and the appropriate punishment will be given.
I work for the NNS so information on how to detect counterfeit bills and methods that skilled counterfeiters use, pass by me all the time, the information is public and for anyone interested you can email me:
Freedom of information is granted to us in our rights, however, freedom to be a criminal is your choice and carries it’s own consequences.

Anonymous May 30, 2006 8:58 PM

fake dollars are produced in colombia and changed for real money so easily because their neighbor ecuador recently adopted the dollar as their national currency, its hard for ecuadorians to spot a fake, they are not used to it. Besides we the colombians are too damn smart.

Hipster June 27, 2007 1:09 AM

Freedom of information is granted to us in our rights, however, freedom to be a criminal is your choice and carries it’s own consequences.

What kind of solvents did they use?

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