Portrait of a Counterfeiter

Interesting article from Wired.

Posted on May 21, 2012 at 10:32 AM • 28 Comments

Comments

brafMay 21, 2012 1:23 PM

Good read, one gets the feeling that it could be halfway to a hollywood moviealready..

WaelMay 21, 2012 1:26 PM

There is one small problem with this method. Real bills will bleed some color (ink is pressed) if scratched against a white paper.

Nick PMay 21, 2012 1:44 PM

@ braf

I agree.

@ Wael

I've never seen anyone do that. They usually feel it, look at it, mark it and check for the main security features. This is what I do too.

Although, now that you've mentioned it, I might add that technique to my own methods. So, thanks.

BenMay 21, 2012 3:06 PM

It's hard to believe someone so otherwise intelligent didn't police his evidence properly. You'd have thought, if you were investing all that money in making money, you'd buy some horrible little farmhouse in the countryside; somewhere no-one would be around to question you burning or burying a load of stuff.

trapspam.honeypotMay 21, 2012 3:14 PM

A true artist and one that seemed to enjoy the chase and being caught. Besides Germany, Denmark has better prisons.

Clive RobinsonMay 21, 2012 3:38 PM

@ trapspam.honeypot,

Besides Germany Denmark has better prisons

If I had to be locked up somewhere, then based on what I've been told Norway is probably the best (if you can say that) place for it to happen, followed by Sweden.

That said I've kept my nose clean for so long now that in the mean time the punishment for boy hood pranks (making duck ponds with an oildrum stuffed with nitro chalk etc) have gone from a moderate slap on the wrists to major time for "faux" terrorism...

In the UK the way the laws are currently written making a silly poem about say OBL or AQ even a rude lymeric could get you 2 to for ever (without trial via an orange jump suit) for providing 'aid or comfort or glorification etc etc' to the enemy...

One would be tempted to question the sanity of our political leaders for these laws (Tony Blair in particular). But then after a little thought on the matter you realise they are clearly not ment to stop "terrorism", but to stop people "contradicting the official line on terrorism" with the likes of the "inconvenient truth"...

Chris WMay 21, 2012 4:03 PM

Was a good read yes, tnx.

@braf
Yeah, reminds me of 'Catch Me If You Can'.
Although the tough part of such a movie is to make it interesting enough. Catch Me had the advantage of some humor between the two leads.
Probably focus first on his money-issues to put him in a protagonist position. Show his passion for the art. Finish act 1 with his first bust and subsequent release.
But the writer will have to dramatize the whole thing or it gets boring real quick.
The writer will probably have those mobsters pay him a visit, nothing really violent, just to put some pressure on the situation.

@Ben
Buy a farmhouse? He had no money, no real money anyways.

Still, it's obvious the criminal part was never his focus, throughout the article you see he was mostly interested in the artistic process.

bperryMay 21, 2012 4:58 PM

Reminds me of a story that happened in an old Southern Country Store ten years or so ago They had one of those marking pens and a $20, maybe a $50 note I don't remember which but they showed me the first one. It also didn't come out right when marked with the pen. So they lost the money.

So the folks knew the next fellow that brought one in that didn't turn right with the pen and called the local Sheriff. But that previous bill went through the Sheriff to the Secret Service and indeed it was a bad bill but they didn't remember where it came from.

But the next bill that came out wrong with that pen was their neighbor who had been in some kind of trouble once before. So they naturally assumed the worst. So did the Sheriff's office who arrested the poor guy. The bill ended up being a 1950 series bill and those pens don't work on those bills. I don't know if the fellow ever got a lawyer but in that instance, I sure would have.

WaelMay 21, 2012 5:25 PM

@ Nick P,

Another test you can add is this: legitimate U.S. bills have iron particles embedded in the ink. A magnet is another test! I just read about this on the internet, and tried it (with a Neodymium .25 inch cube magnet). It does work! But then again, how difficult is it to embed iron particles in ink? I guess Hans-J├╝rgen Kuhl can tell us ...

@bperry,

Hmm! I have an idea now! I will use a similar looking, but "regular pen", and every time I get a bill I will make a mark on it with that "pen" and claim the bill is fake and needs to to be returned to authorities (my pocket) :)

Dirk PraetMay 21, 2012 5:31 PM

@ Clive

Norway is probably the best (if you can say that) place for it to happen, followed by Sweden

I just couldn't resist taking the bait, but Julian Assange may not entirely agree with you on that.

Nick PMay 21, 2012 5:39 PM

@ wael

Thanks for the tip. I figure you could spray at (or soak with) fine iron particles. Like a solution containing them. Again, though, this isnt needed for them to be practical.

Another easy test (used in US) is UV light. Each denomination emits a different colored light.

Orson WellesMay 21, 2012 8:28 PM

Recommend:
F is for Fake
The Flim Flam Man
Grifters
House of Games
The Sting

Clive RobinsonMay 22, 2012 2:22 AM

@ Nick P,

I figure you could spray at (or soak with) fine iron particles. Like a solution containing them.

It probably won't work to well as there would be to low an amount of iron in the spray or otherwisse it would stain the note a greenish-black or redish-brown depending on which iron oxide formed.

There is also another problem, you can buy devices that show "magnetic fields" in a simple hand viewer (they contain a solution with feromagnetic particles in that are different colours for north and south poles). I used to use them when I designed electronic locks based around mag stripe cards the same size as credit cards. I suspect that if you put one ontop of the iron particle loaded ink then the inked pattern would sshow up in the viewer.

@ Wael & bperry,

Hmm! I have an idea now! I will use a similar looking, but "regular pen"...

I'm not sure your idea would work... But the first time I found out about these pens and how they worked I thought up an easy attack that today would be called a DoS... Just wipe a fresh cut root vegtable like a potato across the note, it will be so loaded with starch the note will become loaded with the stuff. Over time due to one note being put against another note and a little humidity etc the starch will spread from note to note and potentialy become a "DDos"...

I thought this a real wheez of an idea and used to joke about it, but never tried it, and it was not untill many years later on being told that cocaine users were doing a similar thing accidently with 20USD notes (nearly all US notes contain measurable amounts of cocaine now within a month or so of going into circulation), that I realised what a great opportunity for a world shaking practical joke had passed me by.

@ Dirk Praet,

but Julian Assange may not entirely agree with you on that

Probably not, but somehow I don't think he fancies execution or "life" in a US federal institution as an alternative (which is if I remember correctly what some US politicians have called for)...

The only thing I'm sure of with respect to that case is that in the way it's been presented in both the press and officialy and the way the authorites initialy dealt with it "realy does not make sense", and the result is an oportunity for people to sow their own meaning into the events...

Clive RobinsonMay 22, 2012 2:44 AM

@ Ben,

It's hard to believe someone so otherwise intelligent didn't police his evidence properly.

Surprisingly he's not the first and by no means the last to fall into this "rubbish/trash" problem. In the UK a fairly successful forger of 20GBP notes was caught because he had a ligitimate printing business and traceable legitimate printing contaminated the waste and led the police straight to his door.

As it turns out if you look into "crime" most criminals get caught because they give themselves away in either ways like this or other ways including boasting about how cleaver they are or being "flash with the money".

I came to the conclusion a long time ago that doing the actuall crime was easy compared with making and keeping the money from it (and my father had pointed out the salient fact of life to me when I was quite young, that if you had the brains to pull off the perfect crime you probably had the brains to earn more money honestly).

Also there are other "gotchers" for the unwary like the "logistics", as mentioned in the article large amounts of currency are bulky and heavy, and as a consiquence you'ld need a truck to shift it around and proper dry storage etc. All of which is very problematical in many ways.

PenTestingMay 22, 2012 3:40 AM

AFAIK those counterfeit detection pens contain a mild iodine solution that detects starch which is on most common paper.

Idea for a DOS on those pens: Rub some corn starch over your bills.

PaeniteoMay 22, 2012 3:59 AM

@PenTesting: "Idea for a DOS on those pens: Rub some corn starch over your bills."

Uhm, in addition you would get quite a nice DOS on your bills and, most likely, yourself. ;-p

PenTestingMay 22, 2012 6:03 AM

@Paeniteo
1) Not everyone uses the pen. The goal is to get them into circulation.
2) Nobody checks small bills. But they will distribute the starch to other, large bills.
3) Always open to a lawsuit and compensation for false accusation and the use of a faulty, unreliable detection device.

PaulMay 22, 2012 6:27 AM

I used to work in a high security (currency paper) paper mill. We used to build a range of overt and subtle security measures into the paper including the thread, watermarks, coloured silk threads, magnetic strips, fluorescence... These were added to in printing with a further range of devices.
And then nobody told the public what to look for. The forgers knew, as they spent time studying the notes, but nobody else did. Few people know even how to spot a real watermark from a fake.
So, was this a private game between the issuing banks and the forgers where the losses to the public didn't count?

karrdeMay 22, 2012 9:50 AM

@Clive, cocaine in money

There have been several stories recently of police discovering someone carrying large amounts of cash. (In at least one instance, the person claimed they had been told to bring cash to post bond for their relative...)

Anyway, the police put the cash in front of a drug-sniffing dog, who alerted on it. The police then confiscated the cash as drug-related contraband.

It's a frightening thought; almost anyone who possess cash in any amount has possession of cocaine-tainted cash.

RE: escalation of punishments for crimes

It is easy to gather the impression that this problem was unique to the United States.

The situation appears to be problem with politicians, laws, crime, elections, and incentives surrounding them. It's hard to justify anything that looks like relaxing punishments for crime. It is easy to justify tightening standards, increasing prison time per crime, and adding crimes to the book.

WaelMay 22, 2012 11:47 AM

@ Clive Robinson,

What is there to prevent this idea from working? I am not messing with the notes! I just have a fake pen. And I am not doing a DoS on MY notes either ;)

GopiballavaMay 22, 2012 5:55 PM

Wael: Personal gain, no. But it does help people realize that these pens are very unreliable.

Randi's been working for years to educate people and expose fraud and pseudoscience and so on. This is just part of that.

NobodySpecialMay 22, 2012 6:10 PM

@Paeniteo - probably a good strategy in the US.
Be a visible minority. Go to a big-name retailer with the doctored bill.

Be accused of counterfeit in front of lots of witnesses. Insist that the police are called. Have the note examined and proved genuine.

File massive libel/slander/etc action against store chain.

Clive RobinsonMay 23, 2012 7:01 AM

@ Wael,

What is there to prevent this idea from working?

How about your assumption that people will just let you keep the note once you have "fake marked" it.

Your scheme is,

... every time I get a bill I will make a mark on it with that "pen" and claim the bill is fake and needs to to be returned to authorities (my pocket) :)

To get that to work you would have to impersonate a person in "authority" (ie a police officer) and most places I know of that's treated as a very serious crime. And will get you put away for considerably longer than you could earn the same money on minimum wages.

But you could always go out and try proving it works some place, don't let me stop you, or blaim me for any consequences that will in all probability befall you.

Clive RobinsonMay 23, 2012 7:35 AM

@ Karrde,

Anyway, the police put the cash in front of a drug- sniffing dog, who alerted on it. The police then confiscated the cash as drug-related contraband

Now this version of Wael's idea works because the police officers are (supposedly) "responsible authorities" however I'm of the opinion that "dog evidence" alone is not evidence of anything other than the dog doing what it's handler tells it to do...

Sadly we have switched over in most WASP nations from "presumed innocence" to "presumed guilt" where it befalls on you unaided to fight the immense resources of the state.

And as you note,

The situation appears to be a problem with politicians, laws, crime, elections, and incentives surrounding them.

As I've indicated it appears to be the case with all WASP nations not just the US, supposadly it is for "efficiency" reasons in that it costs the "state" and therefore it's "honest taxpayers" significant amounts of money to prosecute criminals...

Well that might sound "fine and dandy" to many voters who don't think for five seconds, but for those "honest taxpayers" whom get accused without cause by lazy authorities who in many cases are "incentivised" due to getting to keep a percentage of the take it quickly becomes a living nightmare.

In the UK for instance we have POCA (Proceads Of Crime Act) where the prosecutor just has to infere that you have benifited from crime or will attempt to hide your assets in some way to have you stripped down to a worse state than a bankrupt. Oricinaly promises were made to parliment that the law would only be used against Organised crime bosses etc. The reality is getting to keep 18% of all a persons assets is a realy good way to incentivise prosecuters to invent claims of wrong doing against or invent crimes that don't exist against people as has been seen in the UK.

It's a well known tactic in the legal proffession and it's known as "Striping of rights" even if you eventually prove yourself innocent and reclaim your assets there is no sanction against those of the legal proffession. So there is no disinsentive for them to try it on...

It's the sort of thing you would expect of a "Banana Republic" or "third world hollowed out nation" not a nation that has prided (deluded?) it's self as being the start of proper justice for all against Kings, not just the few who have might of arms...

WaelMay 23, 2012 11:43 AM

@ Clive Robinson,

I will not try that, of course. But a store owner somewhere might try to pull that off.

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