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Currencies that you never knew existed

March 16th, 2009

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While modern day money is considered to have evolved from its most primitive stages, it’s worth noting that for our ancestors it would have not been so easy to carry money around. In Yap, Micronesia, locals have used a very unusual form of currency, in the form of stones called Rai stones. These special stones were carved out of limestone, with each Rai stone weighing an approximate 8800 lbs, and carried around using canoes and rafts. Perhaps, the most peculiar thing about this currency was the fact that its value was not determined by its denomination. Apart from its size and history determining its value, a particular Rai stone could be highly sought after if many people – or no one at all – died when the specific stone was transported. No wonder, that these special stones had the names of all previous owners carved on it.

During the 15th century, the Royal Courts of Malay Peninsula used small non-scribed tin ingots called the “Tin Animal Money”. This form of money which later evolved into a form of currency was used in the Sultanate of Perak during the 16th and 17th centuries. Later they were also used in Selangor and Negeri Sembilan and were usually in the shapes of crocodile money. These small pieces served as small change and were traded by weight. The currency denomination of these ingots was based upon the amount of tin that could be exchanged for one Spanish silver dollar (8 Reales). The ingots were minted in the shape of animals and insects, such as elephants, cocks, tortoises and grasshoppers. It is said that these models or shapes were made under the supervision of magicians.

Currencies that you never knew existed

At the end of the 19th century, the Kissi, Loma and Bandi peoples living in the border regions of today’s Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea introduced the ‘Kissi money’ or ‘Kissi penny’. This money is said to have circulated for many decades along with American, British and French money. The most peculiar aspect of the Kissi money was its shape. Its characteristic form is a twisted rod of iron with flattened ends: a flat, hoe-like spatula at one end and a sharpened ‘T’ at the other. Its length varied from 9 to 15 inches, the longer ones representing a higher denomination. If the iron rod broke, it was considered to be of no value, and its value could only be restored in a special ceremony performed by the Zoe, a traditional witchdoctor – who for a fee, would rejoin the broken pieces and reincarnate the escaped soul. Therefore, the Kissi money is also known as the ‘money with a soul’.

In the 19th and early 20th century, a cross cast out of lumps of copper known as the Katanga Cross was used as the currency in parts of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its name derives from Katanga, a rich copper mining region in Africa along the Kasai River in Zaire. For centuries, these crosses served as indications of wealth and were used in payments, trade and currency. It is said to be also used in bride wealth payments, and have been found in burials. During its primetime, one cross was worth six chickens, two lengths of good fabric, nine pounds of rubber, or six axes. Two crosses could be used to buy a gun. In 1961 after Katanga declared independence from the Congo, it issued its first coins. The coins pictured the Katanga cross as homage to their heritage.

Lock, Stock & Money

March 14th, 2009

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The idea of investing in stocks seemed like a bright prospect a few months back but now it sends shivers down the spines among prospective investors. Share investors have witnessed a tough time over the past six months. Investing in stocks or shares has always been a risky affair, but more so during the past few months as the stock prices went tumbling down, with a steep fall in the economy. Interestingly stock trading is not a new thing and its history can be traced back to the Romans, but the first company to issue stocks was the Dutch East India Company. They pooled in public investment and used it primarily for the building of ships.

Experts in the stock market claim that the one thing that is important for a person trading in stocks is his timing. Investors were quick to realize that they needed to be on the tip of their toes to trade effectively in the stock market. However in the olden days, not everybody had the time to keep a track on the stock prices on a daily basis, and that itself gave rise to a new profession- the Stock Broker. He kept a watch on all your stocks and helped you make a decision on what to buy and what to sell, and charged you a commission (called the brokerage) for his services.

With the advent of technology, the stock markets have seen a radical change over the years. Increasingly sophisticated broking software has not only made it easy for Stock Brokers to trade on the market, it has also meant that a newbie, with a little knowledge about the share markets can take a plunge. The internet has also made it easy for people to trade on stocks sitting at the comfort of their homes, with millions of dollars changing hands in a few milliseconds. Technology has made it possible for algorithmic trading to take place, wherein computer systems are programmed to buy or sell shares when a certain market condition is met.

As with all things related to money, the Stock Market has seen its share of financial scams amounting to millions of dollars. Among the various major scams that have hit the Stock Market hard, the earliest was in 1986 when Barry Minkow claimed to be building a multi-million dollar company and went public with a market cap of $200 million before being discovered that it was a mere scam. However the largest investor fraud ever committed by a single person amounting to a whopping $65 billion was the one orchestrated by Bernard Madoff. He introduced his Ponzi scheme, where instead of investing the money offered to him by his clients it was simply deposited to his business account in Chase Manhattan Bank.

A totally different form of stock scam came into picture in the form of the boiler room. A lot of people have been hit most by boiler room scams, where a smooth talking salesman calls up and tries to peddle worthless shares to unsuspecting customers. Police have called it the biggest threat to households, much bigger than credit card frauds. These are called boiler room scams because the people involved operate out of cramped office spaces with desks and telephones. Police have estimated that there are about 500 boiler rooms operating out of Spain, employing over 400 people. Other favourite Boiler room destinations are USA, Dubai, Berlin and France.

With the economy in recession, investors are thinking twice before plunging into the Stock Market. With statistical figures showing that approximately more than 50% of American households invest in the stock market, it is something that is still considered to be a good investment. It is just a matter of time before the Stock Market hits back with a vengeance. Better hold on to your money until then.

The Founding Fathers Found on Federal Reserve Notes

March 13th, 2009

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The denominations of our Federal Reserve Notes feature portraits of men regarded as the Founding Fathers of this country. Their role in creating and developing our nation, the United States of America is only one of the many accomplishments of our Founding Fathers.

George Washington lived from 1732 to 1799 to the age of sixty seven. He is of course found on the one dollar Federal Reserve Note. He was a member of the First and Second Continental Congresses from 1774 to 1775. George Washington was Commander-in-Chief of the American Revolutionary Army for eight years from 1775 to 1783. He was President of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and of course was the first President of the United States of America for 8 years from 1789 to 1797.

Thomas Jefferson, who lived from 1743 to 1826 to the age of eighty three, is found on the two dollar Federal Reserve Note. He was a member of the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1776. Thomas Jefferson was the first Secretary of State for three years from 1790 to 1793. He was an author and signer of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and was the third President of the United States of America for eight years from 1801 to 1809.

Alexander Hamilton lived from 1755 to 1804 for 49 years. His face appears on the ten dollar Federal Reserve Note. Alexander Hamilton served in the American Revolutionary Army from 1775 to 1781, for six years. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and a signer of the United States Constitution in 1787. Alexander Hamilton was the First Secretary of the Treasury, from 1789 to 1795, for six years.

Benjamin Franklin lived eighty four years, from 1706 to 1790. His face appears on the one hundred dollar Federal Reserve Note. Benjamin Franklin served in the Second Continental Congress for a year from 1775 to 1776. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and is known for negotiating a peace treaty with Great Britain from 1781 to 1783. Benjamin Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the United States Constitution in 1787.

Not to be forgotten are the five African Americans who have had their signatures on currency. The four African American men whose signatures appeared on currency were Blanche K. Bruce, Judson W. Lyons, William T. Vernon, and James C. Napier. These men served as Registers of the Treasury. Until 1923, the two signatures that were on almost all currency were the Treasurer and the Register. That was except for Fractional Currency and Demand Notes. Before 1923, four of the 17 Registers were African American. The fifth African American whose signature appeared on currency was a woman named Azie Taylor Morton. She was the 36th Treasurer of the United States and served from September 12, 1977 to January 20, 1981 for three and a half years.

All of these people were not only important for the currency they were on, or signed, but they were important in their own right, making history and setting the precedence with which our currency is upheld to today.

A small word called tax

March 12th, 2009

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Filing taxes is something that is dreaded by the common man every year. However it seems our ancestors would be as dreadful as we are since the history of tax can be traced to as long back as 3000 BC in ancient Egypt. Tax was historically collected from the people in the form of a percentage of the crop yield, and this had to be handed over to the Pharaoh. Taxes have evolved over the years, and in modern taxation systems, tax is solely collected in the form of money, and is usually performed by a government appointed agency.

While the collection of tax has always been debated, funds collected by the taxation process are used for various purposes mainly for providing greater benefits and improve the level of basic services such as water, energy and waste management for the people. The rate of tax is fixed by the government, but can be increased depending on the economic condition of a nation. During the eighteenth century, England was at war, and the tax burden increased dramatically by 85% over this period.

In the modern society, taxes can be seen everywhere and they have become a part of life. With the introduction of the Value Added Tax (VAT) in 1954, all commercial activities were tagged with the tax label, and the consumer had to pay a tax for any commodity that he or she buys. History however has seen the weirdest of tax schemes. In Britain, a tax was imposed on windows by William Pitt, as it was considered to be a luxury possession. Nero the Roman Emperor taxed urine, as it was used as a raw material for a number of chemical processes. Peter the Great, the czar who modernized modern Russia is said to have introduced soul tax, for the maintenance of armed forces.

Tax havens evolved as a direct economic response to the principle of taxes, as places where taxes were levied at an extremely low rate or not levied at all. Tax havens can be traced to ancient Greece, where sea traders deposited foreign goods in Greek island to evade the two percent tax imposed by Athens. The oldest tax haven is said to be the Channel Islands dating as far back as 1006 A.D, although economic commentators suggest that the first “true” tax haven was Switzerland. Most European governments had to pay for reconstruction costs for damages suffered during the World War I using the taxpayer’s money, but Switzerland’s neutral policy during the war allowed it to maintain a low level of tax.

Evasion of tax is considered to be a crime, and the non-paying entity or individual can be subject to civil penalties such as fines or forfeiture or criminal penalties such as incarceration. In spite of this, individuals and companies try to evade tax, considering it to be a burden on their income. Individuals have tried various means to evade tax, with the strangest being a person trying to claim his dog as a dependent. Yet another instance saw a man trying to save tax for the money that he had made from donating sperms, claiming that he had been depleted.

With economies on a downturn, tax is becoming the focal point of all discussions on reviving shattered economic conditions. Council taxes have been increased in some places to bring some money in the exhausted council coffers, and Japan is considering cutting tax rates to boost economic demand. Tax has never been so much in the limelight, and it is becoming increasingly clear that this small three letter word will play a big role in the months to come.

The $2 and $100 Bills-The Rarer Currencies

March 12th, 2009

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The first two dollar notes were called United States Notes or “Legal Tenders”. They were issued by the Federal Government in 1862, featuring a portrait of the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. In 1869, Thomas Jefferson’s portrait started being used and the same portrait has continued to be used for all two dollar United States Notes and all two dollar Federal Reserve Notes. Monticello was first featured as the vignette on the back of the two dollar United States Note in 1928. Monticello was Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Virginia.

In 1976, in celebration of the United States bicentennial, a two dollar Federal Reserve Note was introduced. Thomas Jefferson’s portrait was still on the face but Monticello was replaced on the back by a vignette of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This painting of the Declaration of Independence was painted by John Trumbull. The original portrayed forty-seven people, 42 of whom were signers out of the fifty-six on the Declaration of Independence. Because of a limited amount of space on the two dollar note, five of the forty-seven were left off. The most recent printing of the two dollar note was in 2003 and at this time there are no plans to redesign it.

The first one-hundred dollar notes were also called United States Notes or Legal Tenders. They were issued by the Federal Government in 1862 and they featured a vignette of an American eagle. Benjamin Franklin first had his portrait on the one hundred dollar note in 1914, the first series of these Federal Reserve Notes. The one hundred dollar note is the largest denomination of Federal Reserve Notes that are currently issued in the United States. The life span of a one hundred dollar Federal Reserve Note is 89 months on average. This is much longer than other denominations of currency since this is rarer and circulated less than they are.

In 1996, the one hundred dollar Federal Reserve Note featured large portraits, watermarks and color-shifting ink. The notes also included micro-printing, which is lettering so small that it is hard to replicate, on the front of the note. “USA 100” is written in the numbers located in the lower left corner and “United Sates of America” is in one line on the left lapel of Benjamin Franklin’s coat.

Since 1928, the vignette on the back of the one hundred dollar note has featured an engraving of Independence Hall, the former State House of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. Independence Hall is often called the birthplace of our Nation because inside is where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where the Constitution of the United States was drafted. It has been said that the man and women in front of the hall close to the building are embracing but there is no record of that. The hands on the clock on the hall are set to 4:10. There doesn’t seem to be any explanation as to why this time was chosen.

ATMs - those amazing telling machines

March 11th, 2009

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Automated Teller Machines or ATMs have changed the way people do banking. Before the arrival of ATMs people had to wait for the bank to open, and stand in long queues to withdraw their own money, or just to know the balance on their account. Now ATMs are everywhere, in shopping malls, hospitals, offices and chances are that one is in your neighbourhood as well. Statistics have revealed that as of August 2006, there are over 1.5 million of these smart systems in operation.

Although the primary use of ATMs is for dispensing cash, these intelligent machines can be used for multiple purposes apart from bank-related functions. Since ATMs have a user interface at their disposal, they have been targeted by banks as a sales device, for displaying targeted advertising. Banks have recognized the huge potential for advertising of their own as well as third-party products and services on ATMs. In some countries ATMs are also used for purchasing commodities such as postage stamps, lottery tickets, train tickets, concert tickets etc.

ATMs as other technological devices have also been targeted by criminals to gain access to the cash lying inside these dispensers. Although ATMs are considered to be very secure, they have been subject to criminal attacks, with thieves attempting to get away with the entire ATM. Since ATMs are designed and constructed to be physically invulnerable, thieves resort to using construction machinery to demolish or uproot an entire ATM and steal any cash within. Criminals have also used explosives to blast open the ATM and get into its cash vault.

ATMs are quite secure for transactions, using advanced encryption techniques to encrypt sensitive information such as pin numbers, so that they cannot be sniffed across the network. To overcome this limitation, criminals have resorted to placing fake keypads on the ATM terminals to record the card number and pin. These are then used to gain access to an unsuspecting user’s accounts to withdraw cash or transfer money. High tech criminals also resort to a technique involving the installation of a magnetic card reader and a wireless surveillance camera to observe the user’s pin, and later use a fake card to dispense cash from the ATM.

Banks have resorted to various means to get around this of which the most successful have been the use of biometrics, where a user is identified using either one or a combination of his physical traits. Popular biometric techniques involve scanning of the iris or matching the fingerprints of the user with the ones stored in the bank’s database.  Other security techniques put in place by banks involve the development of intelligent sensors that detect the presence of foreign objects and trigger an alarm. Banks have claimed a 99% success rate, using these techniques.

In spite of a few shortcomings, ATMs continue to be a huge success and have proved to be highly popular thus making them a must for banks. However the future of ATMs remains uncertain. Although, statistics indicate that the numbers of ATMs are steadily on the rise and continue to make their presence felt at gasoline stations and shopping outlets, the advent of a cashless society and home banking can pose a serious threat to these marvellous machines. They also face fierce competition from an increasing rise of point-of-sale systems and smart cards.

Having celebrated their 40th birthday recently, these amazing machines could possibly be made extinct by paperless money in times to come.

Facts About the One Dollar Bill

March 11th, 2009

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Did you know:

o that the 1st one dollar notes were issued by the Federal Government in 1862. They featured a portrait of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase?

o that the first use George Washington’s portrait on one dollar notes was on the 1869 United States Notes?

o that the inclusion of “In God We Trust” on all currency was required by law in 1955. It first appeared on paper money in 1957, on one dollar Silver Certificates, and on all Federal Reserve Notes starting in 1963?

o that the first one dollar Federal Reserve Notes were issued in 1963. It had George Washington on the face and the Great Seal on the back? This remains unchanged.

o that of all the notes printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, one dollar notes make up 45% of all currency made?

o that the life span of a one dollar bill is 21 months?

o that the face and back designs of all U.S. paper currency, except the backs of the one and two dollar bills were adopted in 1928?

o that George Washington is on the one dollar bill, Thomas Jefferson is on the $2, Abraham Lincoln is on the $5, Alexander Hamilton is on the $10, Andrew Jackson is on the $20, Ulysses Grant is on the $50, and Benjamin Franklin is on the $100?

o that notes of higher denominations, while no longer produced featured William McKinley on the $500, Grover Cleveland on the $1000, James Madison on the $5000, and Salmon Chase on the $10,000?

o Faceplate Numbers and Letters are the small numbers and letters that can be found in the lower right and upper left corners of a bill?

o In the left corner of the dollar bill is the Note Position Number? This consists of the Note Position Letter and a quadrant number. The Note Position Letter is followed by the Plate Serial Number. This identifies the plate the note was printed from. The Plate Serial Number for the back side of the note is in the lower-right corner.

o that bills that have a small “FW” in the lower right corner on the front of the bill indicate that the bill was printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s Western Currency Facility in Fort Worth, Texas?

All of these things contribute to what the dollar is today. You probably haven’t thought much about The Great Seal or the Note Position Letter and Plate Serial Number. If you take a closer look at that dollar in your pocket, you can trace it back to its exact location on the plate it was printed from. It may not be top on your list of things to do when you’re paying for your cup of coffee but someone could certainly track this dollar to its roots if they wanted to. Take a look, you might find something interesting yourself!

Technology playing an important role in financial crimes

March 10th, 2009

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Money related crimes have seen an increase in the past decade. This has been attributed to the recent technological advances that the world has seen. With the advent of the internet and wireless technologies, it has become more than easy to perform crimes. On the other hand, it has become more difficult for crime prevention units to combat them. Among the high tech crimes that have affected the society, Currency counterfeiting, money laundering, intellectual property crime, payment card fraud, computer virus attacks and cyber-terrorism have been named by the Interpol as few of the most dreaded crimes committed by criminals across the globe.

Money laundering and currency counterfeiting have the potential to destabilise national economies and threaten global security, as these activities are sometimes used by terrorists and other dangerous criminals to finance illegal activities or conceal their illegal money. Intellectual property crime has turned out to be a major financial concern for car manufacturers, luxury goods makers, media firms and drug companies to name a few, with the World Health organization claiming that more than 60% of the pharmaceuticals out in the market are fake.

Whilst new technologies benefit people in numerous ways, they open up many possibilities for criminals to carry out traditional financial crimes in ways never imagined before. One of the most widely used tactics employed by criminals over the internet is ‘Spam’.  Spam is used by criminals across the globe to fraud customers in increasingly sophisticated ways combined with ‘phishing’ to commit fraud and even money laundering.

Authorities in USA had busted up an international racket and charged a gang of 38 people who sought innocent parties’ personal information through phishing emails and smishing (sending SMS text messages via cell phones). The gang used phishing by luring users who clicked on links contained in spam e-mails into a fraudulent website – posing as a legitimate online bank, where they were tricked into entering sensitive information like passwords and bank details. This information was being sent into the gang’s personal database to be then later used for conducting frauds and money laundering.

Criminals can use another individual’s Internet access, which would guarantee the unauthorised user a great degree of anonymity. This can then be used to get into the individual’s bank accounts, or spy software can be installed on the computer to gather sensitive information like usernames and passwords for bank accounts. Hackers with an extensive knowledge of computers and networking can “hack” into databases and retrieve account information.

In the internet world, there is a high price for this kind of sensitive information. Information such as credit card numbers are traded over IRC channels on the internet, and they are bought by criminals. The hackers lack the skills to do anything with the data they steal and the old-time criminals lack the technical skills to get the data. The internet is the meeting point for these two different types of people.

Technology clearly has two faces. While one face of technology benefits people by making it easier to manage their finances, the other face of it is exploited by criminals to gain access to easy money. It is easily apparent that people are being increasingly exposed to the technological era of crime, and they need to be more careful than ever before, to keep their hard earned money safe from the hands of these high-tech money stealers.

Currency Counterfeiting and Defacing-Be Nice to Your money

March 10th, 2009

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Title 18, Section 471 of the United States Code states that manufacturing counterfeit United States currency or altering genuine currency to increase its value is a violation punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or 15 years imprisonment or both. Also in Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code, defacement, mutilating, cutting, disfiguring, perforating, uniting or cementing together any bank bill, draft, note or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such items unfit to be reissued, shall be fined and/or imprisoned for up to six months.


You can just as easily be imprisoned and/or fined just for possession of counterfeit money with fraudulent intent. All of these offenses are covered under Title 18 of the United States Code. Possession of counterfeit money is under Section 472 and is punishable by a fine of up to $15,000 and/or 15 years imprisonment. These sections in Title 18 regarding counterfeiting are clear and strict however they only cover paper money. The defacement section covers all money. Defacement of currency in such a way that it’s made unfit for circulation is under the jurisdiction of the United States Secret Service.

Regarding the counterfeiting of change, also covered in Title 18, is outlined in Section 331of the United States Code. It seems that there isn’t a big problem of counterfeiting pennies because pennies are not mentioned whatsoever in this section. However, anyone manufacturing a counterfeit U.S. count in any denomination above 5 cents (which also sounds like nickels aren’t included, just amounts above them) is subject to the same penalties as all other counterfeiters, that is a fine of up to $5,000 and/or 15 years imprisonment. Someone who is only altering, not manufacturing, a U.S. coin to increase its value, also according to Section 331, is a crime punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and or imprisonment of up to 5 years.

Section 510 covers the forging, altering or trafficking in United States government checks, bonds or other obligations. If you were to participate in doing these things, you could face a fine of up to $10,000 and or 10 years in prison. Section 474 covers and prohibits the printing reproductions, photographs of paper currency, checks, bonds, postage stamps, revenue stamps and securities of the United States. Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $5, 000 and/or 15 years in jail.

We all know, especially in these hard times that sometimes money is scarce. People are losing their jobs and paying more for their homes, food and basic necessities. The more people counterfeit, the lower the value of our dollar drops. If this is something you were to come across, think of the consequences outlined here and think if using counterfeit money is worth the $2,000 to $10,000 fine and years of jail time is worth it. Chances are that you would rather stay in the position you are in than every try to counterfeit money!

Money Laundering – is it a common thing?

March 9th, 2009

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Money Laundering - by definition means to hide illicit income, or disguise it in a form that it no longer appears to be illegitimate. This can be done in a variety of ways. Money laundering can be as simple as stashing away illicit cash in a big bag, so that apart from the person hiding it, nobody else knows about it.  In the modern world however, criminals tend to lock up their illicit money in foreign banks, with less stringent bank laws, or hide it in the form of investment in a business, or discreetly purchase personal property.

Money laundering is a punishable offence by law. In October 2005, U.S congressman Tom Delay was charged with money laundering, forcing him to step down as House Majority Leader. In U.S the average prison sentence for Money laundering is six years.  In late December 2006, the Chinese authorities uncovered a five billion Yuan (633 million U.S Dollars) money laundering scandal, the country’s biggest ever. Apparently this scandal was only accidently exposed following a probe into false business registrations, raising fears over how money laundering can be easily concealed.

With the rise of global finances, money laundering has become easier than ever. Countries with bank secrecy laws are directly connected with countries with bank-reporting laws, making it easy to carry out anonymous transactions to deposit “dirty” money. Also, with recent technological advances, money can zip through two countries in a flash. Considering that an estimated 700,000 wire transfers occur daily in the United States moving well over $2 trillion, illicit wire transfers are easily hidden.

The advent of internet and electronic cash has made money laundering an easy affair, and extremely difficult to trace. DigiCash, a form of electronic cash introduced by an Amsterdam based company is said to be the most secure form of electronic cash available. It uses a technology called ‘blinding’ which makes it unconditionally untraceable, thus making it a boon for money launderers across the globe. Recently UK authorities busted a gang of international criminals trying to launder £229 million from a City bank by exploiting the high-tech security measures designed to protect money transfers.

That brings us to our next question. Is money laundering only used by individuals to hide their illegitimate money? Recently, the United Nations’ crime and drug watchdog has indicated that “dirty” money  made in the illicit drug trade has been used to bailout large banks in the global financial crisis, since it was the only form of liquid capital available. The amount of money involved in this bailout is said to be hundreds of billions, which could make this the largest money laundering operation in the history of the world.

While it is impossible to ascertain the statistics of money laundering, a frequently cited figure places it to be about 2-5% of the worldwide global economy. With no discreet data available for the statistics these are just mere guesses and the actual figures are estimated to be much higher. Money laundering is a huge problem, and although current money laundering laws apply to cyber laundering, their efficiency is rather limited.

The truth is that although Money laundering may not be a common thing now, technology has created the means and ability to launder money by use of completely untraceable digital currency, and the future may have something different in store for us.

The History of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing

March 9th, 2009

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The Bureau of Engraving and Printing can be traced back to August 29, 1862. It was a single room in the basement of the Treasury Building. Here, two men and four women separated and sealed $1 and $2 US notes which had been printed by private bank note companies. Now, there are about 2,500 employees working out of two buildings in Washington D.C. and a new building in Fort Worth, Texas. On April 26, 1991, the Western Currency Facility in Fort Worth had its grand opening.

Emma S. Brown was the youngest employee every hired by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. She started working in 1865 when she was almost 11 years old. She had a physically –handicapped mother and an older brother who was the main bread winner for the family. He was a soldier with the 188th Pennsylvania Volunteers and was killed in action during the siege of Petersburg in July, 1864. Emma Brown’s Congressman gave her a political appointment to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in the examination division. Ms. Brown was forewoman of the trimming section for 59 years before retiring on April 24, 1924.

1877 brought the need for a Plate Printer force which included a large number of experienced firemen who were formed into a Fire Brigade for the protection of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing property. Electric lighting was introduced to the Bureau in 1888; six years before a majority of the Bureau positions were placed under Civil Service. By 1908, all of the positions were under Civil Service. The printing of revenue stamps was taken over by the Bureau in 1876 and in 1894 they began printing postage stamps. During World War II, the Bureau overprinted stocks of regular currency notes that had certain distinguishing, identifying features which were shipped over for use in the Hawaiian Islands.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has printed currency for the governments of the Republic of Cuba, Siam, Korea and the Philippines. The Bureau was reimbursed by each government for all the work that was done. Denominations ranging from 1/5 cent Wine Stamp all the way to the $100,000,000 International Monetary Fund Special Notes were produced by the Bureau. There were many discrepancies in the stamps and currency. This opened an investigation and a tremendous amount of time into the research. Samples include:

• A man who insisted the portrait of Lincoln on the $5 bill must have been printed in reverse because Lincoln parted his hair on the left side, not the right. After much correspondence, several trips to museums and the Smithsonian Institute including a study of the Lincoln death mask all revealed that Lincoln’s mole and part were indeed on the same side of his face, on the right.

• On the Pony Express Stamp of 1941, many have insisted that the wrong saddle was on the pony.

• Some have said that on the Gold Star Mother Stamp of 1948 showed a Russian star.

• The Little America Stamp of 1933 had the continents on it that some would argue were misplaced.

• One man insisted that the word “Anniversary” on the 1952 Gutenberg Bible Stamp was misspelled.

In each of these occurrences and many more, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing proved conclusively that the designs depicted were correct.

Currency Counterfeiting - A global nemesis

March 8th, 2009

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The history of counterfeiting traces itself to the history of money itself. Counterfeiting had started when money was in its most primitive stages. The ancient Greeks and Romans resorted to shaving down legal coins, reducing their value, and use the shavings to cast new coins. The advent of paper money led to the modern day counterfeiting. With potential ill–effects being as huge as bringing a whole nation down, counterfeiting has proved to be a nemesis among nations, and the punishment for this crime can be as extreme as death.

Apart from being a human crime, counterfeiting by itself has been used among various nations to destabilise the economy of an entire nation. Governments have used it to a great degree of success by overflowing the target nation with fake bank notes, causing the real value of the currency to crash. During, the Revolutionary War, the Government of England resolved to counterfeit to reduce the value of the Continental Dollar. The United States government took a similar course but the fake Confederate currency they produced was of a superior quality as compared to the real thing.

The most professional campaign of counterfeiting was conducted by the Germans in World War II. The Germans manufactured very convincing paper, and used the professional expertise of prisoners held captive in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, to produce the fake currency. The Bank of England managed to obtain some bogus German currency, and found the forgeries so good that it is said that the only way to distinguish it from the real thing was that the forged one was better.

In the modern days, counterfeiting has been used to promote and sponsor terrorism. The Central Bureau of Intelligence (CBI) in India has reported that rupee notes are supplied by the Pakistan government press, free of cost to Dubai-based counterfeiters who, in turn smuggle it into India. This money is later used for funding terrorist activities inside India, and is also reported to be the main source of funding for the recent Mumbai blasts.

With advances in technology, the quality of counterfeiting has improved drastically, making it difficult to tell the real thing apart from its counterfeit. It is claimed that the U.S dollar bills produced in North Korea, are the finest counterfeit banknotes, and are called Superdollars because of their high amount of detail and quality. However, with the advent of the Euro, there has been a substantial decrease in the amount of forged U.S currency.

Counterfeiters use various measures to produce replicas of the original currency. Devices can range from a simple colour photocopier to much technologically advanced printing techniques like those used at the national mint depending on the level of accuracy and detail desired. Counterfeiting has become more of a bother now than ever before as it is easier for small-time operators to pull it off. All that is required is a high-resolution scanner, a high-end colour printer and a personal computer system.

Considering the nemesis that counterfeiting has on the economy, the governments of various nations have taken a number of steps to combat it. Techniques like making intricate designs, using ink patterns that are hard to duplicate have been employed. US greenbacks were traditionally printed in two inks. Many nations print engraved money, which use specially engraved plates that are very difficult to replicate. Some countries also resort to coming up with new designs frequently.

Statistics for counterfeiting remain uncertain, as it is difficult for most people to recognize a forged currency unless they are trained to do so. Some estimates place the proportion of bogus currency in Western Europe at about 3%, but the ratio is much higher in less developed countries. The usual target for counterfeiting is the $100 bill, and many of the forgeries are very good.

With so many techniques applied by various nations, the truth is that until money is being printed, counterfeiters will exist.

Japan, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand’s Currency Falls

March 6th, 2009

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Japan’s yen will fall to 102 to the U.S.’s dollar as of tomorrow. The yen had been as strong as 87.12 to the dollar in January and has lost 8.8% since then. The forecast calls for the yen to fall 4% more in the next 3 months. Mexico’s peso has dropped 32% since September. The peso is 16th out of the top 16 most-traded currencies, showing the largest drop and the worst performance also since September. For the fourth week in a row, Australia and New Zealand’s dollars fell against the U.S. dollar. The dollars also fell against the yen. Australia’s economy shrank in the fourth quarter and grew less than expected in January. What is going on here?

Though misery loves company, I don’t think we (by “we” I mean the United States) would wish our economical woes on any other country. So is our economy falling because of the currency issues in foreign countries or are they failing because of our falling dollar and failing stocks?

Because the yen and other Japanese accounts are declining, their investors started and continue to purchase foreign securities. In February, the yen had its worst monthly drop in 13 years, and Japan’s overseas stocks and bonds rose to record numbers. At the same time, Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso’s disapproval rating also rose to record highs. Carry trades could have helped Japan borrow foreign currencies with low interest rates and invest in nations with high borrowing costs. Don’t think that the U.S. is safe because our big investors could start purchasing foreign securities also, starting this whole downward spiral.

Mexico’s peso fell 1.4% to the U.S. dollar after an announcement of the country’s currency commission regarding changes to the foreign-exchange auction system. Yesterday the peso was down another 1% to 15.39 to the U.S. dollar. The same currency commission said it will offer to buy $100 million worth of pesos a day in order to guarantee that the central bank’s projected foreign reserve accumulation is sold. Even high ranking Mexican officials say that this will not be enough to jump start Mexico’s economy and failing peso. Mexico is in a state just below panic at this time and if things continue falling, the U.S. is going to have to step in before this goes too far. Just like any other nation, the United States could end up like this at any moment.

Australia has an overall negative dynamic which will be the main issue pushing their dollar lower. The Aussie dollar fell from a value of 64.3 U.S. cents two days ago, to 63.9 U.S. cents yesterday. Even New Zealand is feeling the pain, their dollar falling from 50.2 U.S. cents to 49.8 cents yesterday.

The thing to remember is for one, we are not the only ones feeling this bite of economical downfall. Different countries are hurting to different extents and in slightly different ways, but we can all empathize because if we’re not there, we have been or know we will be. Besides focusing on rebuilding the United States’ economy, we have to remember that the world will follow. This is not the first time we have seen crises and it won’t be the last. Your best weapon in this battle is staying informed and using that knowledge to the fullest.

Libor and the Dollar

March 5th, 2009

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Libor or the London Interbank Offered Rate, was introduced in early 1984 after it became apparent that an increasing number of banks were trading actively in a variety of relatively new market tools. The British Bankers’ Association (BBA) noted that these new tools notably interest rate swaps, foreign currency options and forward rate agreements, brought in more business and greater intensity to the London Interbank Market. However they were also worried that future growth would be hindered unless there was a standard introduced.

Hence, Libor was introduced as a standard and would become the British Bankers Association’s yardstick for interest swap rates.  This standard also incorporated the fixing of BBA interest settlement rates which became a part of the overall package officially known as the BAIRS terms – the BBA standard for interest swap rates. Ever since it was introduced, the Libor has been used as the official standard for calculating the rate of reference for the British Pound Sterling and other currencies including the US dollar.

Every weekday morning, as the clock ticks round to 11, a group of six people put together this world’s most important number. This number will later determine the day’s Libor rate or rather the rate banks charge when they lend each other money. To get a sense of the importance of Libor to the financial system you only have to look at the precautions that the team goes to make sure that the figure always gets published on time.

The group is equipped with an emergency evacuation office in Canary Wharf, London. They also have another permanently staffed office at a secret location outside London. Every team member also has a dedicated phone line in their home in case they are prevented from getting to the office, by an incident such as a terrorist attack. Nothing is allowed to come between Libor and the wider world.

However serious questions about the credibility of the Libor were raised, after a study released by the Wall Street Journal, revealed that banks may have downplayed borrowing costs they reported for LIBOR during the 2008 credit crisis. The immediate impact of this meant that banks could have created a false impression about their borrowing. By using the LIBOR to their advantage banks could create an impression that they could borrow from other financial institutions more cheaply than they could in reality. This meant that although the banks were suffering they appeared to be much healthier.

The BBA conducted an internal investigation, and announced that the LIBOR is definitely dependable and can be relied on even during the financial crisis. This was supported by other authorities including the Bank for International Settlements. It was also found that “Although the integrity of the U.S dollar LIBOR fixing process has been questioned by some market participants and the financial press, it appears that U.S. dollar LIBOR remains an accurate measure of a typical creditworthy bank’s marginal cost of unsecured U.S. dollar term funding”

As the U.S. government was set to propose more massive spending to help fight recession, the LIBOR for the U.S dollar increased even as the rate for Euros slipped to a record low. Analysts said that more government aid for the economy would keep dollar Libor rates on a mildly rising trend as the government would likely have to borrow more funds. Under such circumstances, banks do not want to lend out their spare liquidity because there is uncertainty - both about whether the bank will need the cash itself in coming months, and about the financial health of the borrowing bank.

As Libor measures the rates at which banks are prepared to lend to each other, it follows that it also determine the rate at which they are prepared to lend to their customers. It eventually goes on to set the rate of $360 trillion (£210 trillion) worth of financial products worldwide, ranging from mortgage rates to car loans. The big institutions are increasingly dependent on the central banks for cash and until this ends we’ll not see Libor rates falling.

So despite its daily fluctuations, it seems that the lack of trust between banks has rendered the market almost silent.But with the eyes of politicians, bankers and customers fixed on the daily Libor numbers, it seems unlikely that the attention on this world’s most important number will disappear.

How Much Cash do Americans Keep on Hand?

March 5th, 2009

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What’s in your pocket?


Americans are losing faith in banks, period. That goes without saying and no explanation is needed. We all know this. The stock market is falling; banks are going down and receiving money just to keep themselves afloat. What is the average American doing? They are stashing their cash or carrying it with them! In the past year, since gas prices started skyrocketing, Americans have started looking twice at their bank accounts and getting nervous. Even then there was talk of there being a recession. People started withdrawing their money in a frenzy and selling their stocks, starting to stash it at home and carrying large amounts in their wallets. So how much money do Americans carry in their wallets, and how much money is stashed in American homes?

The amount of cash Americans carry on their person is directly affected by the area of the country they live in. People in New York and Los Angeles are going to carry way more money than someone who lives in a smaller town like Lorain, Ohio or El Paso, Texas. Since the cost of living is so different, the cash one carries for basic necessities would be much higher in New York City and way lower in Lorain, Ohio. The demographics on carrying money look like this:
The average purse or wallet in the United States contains about $104.

13% of Americans use a piggy bank.

28% of Americans have a coin jar.

15% if people in the U.S. have a large amount of cash hidden in their houses. Out of these people, half of them have it hidden and the other half hide it in plain sight.

1/3 of Americans keep a small amount of cash on hand for emergencies.

Finally, more than 50% of American’s don’t keep any cash at all in the house.

American’s carry cash so they don’t have to use credit cards, foregoing the interest usually incurred in that way. People carry cash because they don’t trust the banks and they haven’t been able to trust banks for at least a year or more. Some carry cash because that’s what they’ve always done and that’s what they were taught to do. Sure a lot of people go into a bank or through the drive through to cash their paychecks, in return getting their cash for no extra fees. What about those who don’t go to the bank and whose checks are automatically deposited? These people will usually hit up the ATM. It’s difficult if possible at all to not incur a fee when using the ATM so this way of obtaining your cash is costing you money. Is the tradeoff worth it?

Some might argue that we’re becoming a no cash society; using less cash and more and more debit and credit cards. I wonder if these people have taken a look at the economy lately because I think we may be going back to using as little plastic as possible.

Can you text me 1000 Dollars please?

March 4th, 2009

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Ever since currency evolved, humans have used it to lend to loved ones or friends and families, or make payments. In the earlier days, the only form of lending money used to be meeting the person and handing it over personally, over a cup of tea. As technologies evolved, and people became more and more busy there was a need for money to be transferred or lent easily. Along came cheques, and it was now easy to write a cheque and send it across.

Cheques were convenient to use, but the whole process was slow and time consuming. Banks later introduced Wire Transfers, which were blazingly fast to transfer money. Wire transfers, however required the person to visit the bank and order the bank to transfer money. Then came the Internet , and it was now possible for the sender himself to log on to his bank account and initiate a transfer to the party he wished to send. With the advent of mobile technologies, we were ushered into a wireless age.

Mobile phones have penetrated into every household. In fact studies have revealed that although 5 babies are born every second around the world, 30 new mobile phones are being subscribed to every day. Evolution of mobile phone technologies has meant that it is now possible to send money to your loved ones, or make a payment to that provider located on the other part of the globe, just by pressing a button on your cell phone.

With a lot of people travelling and moving from their homes in search of employment, money transfer has become a lucrative market for mobile phone companies as millions of people send money across. Mobile money transfer has changed lives in various countries. In Kenya, when it was introduced as M-pesa, the technology provided cut – throat completion to existing money transfer agencies, notably the government-owned Postal Corporation, a market leader with a massive network of agencies.

The technology has been a boon to most people living in rural areas, who have to rely financially on relatives in the cities. The mobile transfer technology has replaced the much slower postal money orders, and people in urgent need of financial help are being immensely benefitted by it. A similar technology was introduced in the developing market of Afghanistan, where it was particularly relevant since the large majority of population does not have access to traditional banking services.

Even in developed countries like the US and UK, it is estimated that more than $10bn a year is sent back to countries by migrant workers. Based on World Bank estimates, reducing remittance commission charges by 2-5% could increase the flow of remittances by 50-70%. Mobile phone companies are hence, being increasingly attracted to this lucrative market.

Money transfers suffer the risk of being prone to scams, and wire transfers also suffered from money being send by wire to an unknown person. Apparently, the mobile money transfer service is said to be secure, in the sense that it uses security pin codes, for the transaction. So, the next time you need to make a payment, or transfer a 1000 dollars to your loved ones, why not text it?

The Value of a Dollar-It’s more than just 100 Cents

March 4th, 2009

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The value of our dollar depends strongly on the values of the dollars of other countries, exchange rates and interest rates. The interest rate in the United States from the Federal Reserve dropped to 4.75% in September 2007. Other banks around the world did not follow when this happened. This means that the European Central Bank (the home of the euro) has a higher interest rate right now than the Federal Reserve. Basically holding a Euro in your hand would be worth more in interest than holding a dollar in your hand. At this time in the dollar’s life, which would you choose?

Because of this difference in interest rate, other countries around the world are thinking like you and I are. They’re diversifying their holdings from dollars to Eruos and even British pounds for this same reason. In a supply and demand aspect, this situation causes there to be a large supply of dollars making them worth less. This loss in value caused the oil industry to charge higher prices, hence the skyrocket this past summer. Other countries don’t want the dollars they get for oil so they exchange them for Euros. It’s an endless cycle that has only gotten worse, despite understanding the root of the problem.

The dollar dropping is a double edged sword. On one hand, many manufacturers want to produce their products in factories in the United States, bringing us jobs. The reason manufacturers want to bring their factories here because it’s so cheap to run because of the low dollar value yet they can sell them overseas for the value of the Euro. On the other hand, the low dollar causes inflation. We know how bad that can be. Everything becomes more expensive in order to make up for the dollar value going down. Companies still want to make a profit on their goods so the cost of everything rises.

In order to get bonds to sell, they will be cheaper and have higher interest rates. These interest rates correlate to mortgage rates which don’t seem to be dropping anytime soon. Our weak dollar is also scaring away foreign investors who are now afraid to own stock in US companies. Foreign nations who have a lot invested in the dollar have the ability to cause a nuclear financial meltdown for the United States. They could easily exchange their dollars for something else, releasing our money into circulation, causing the value to plummet.

All in all, yes the dollar is worth 20 times less than it was in 1913 but a year or two ago, we knew that and we were used to it. Right now, on top of the 20 times less, it is losing more value in front of our eyes. I’m no one to give financial information but now that you know about the value of the U.S. dollar, just watch what you do with it. Buy and sell carefully because this is a delicate time for our economy.

How and Why to Start a Savings Account

March 3rd, 2009

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Put your money where the bank is.


Get that cash out from under your mattress and your bra is not a good hiding spot. I’ve seen some funny and innovative places that people have hidden their cash but none of those places is safer than the bank. Does your mattress doesn’t pay you to put money under it? Well a bank does.

First things first, you want to find the bank that’s for you. If you’re a walk-in type of person, you’ll want a bank that has a branch in your area. If you’re internet savvy, you might want a bank where you can control everything online. Interest rate is also a big factor you should take into consideration when choosing a bank. The higher the interest rate, the more money you will make putting your money in that bank. Some banks require or “suggest” you start your account with a certain amount. This could be anywhere from $500 to $5000 to much more. Some suggest you keep a certain minimum balance your account. These are all things you want to know before you start putting your money anywhere and before you sign anything!

Next you should decide if you’re saving towards a purpose (like a home or car) or just to save for your future. Something like this can make a difference to the banker when you go to open your account. Decide on an amount from every paycheck that will go into your account automatically. Try not to deviate from this amount. A general rule is 10% of the money you bring in. You could also set up a change jar and save up extra change and dollars in between paychecks. You’ll be AMAZED how much change adds up. Once you’ve chosen your bank and you’re familiar with that bank’s practices, policies and interest rate go ahead and sign up. If you do this online you may have to send in a form with your signature or some official documents.

Why in the world would you want to start a savings account to begin with? Isn’t a checking account enough? Isn’t my pocket enough? Well, to tell the truth, the easier the access you have to your money, the more likely you are to spend it. That’s just a simple fact. You need to have some backup money that you have access to but that isn’t the easiest, first route you go through to pay for something. You need a savings account to save for an emergency. In case your car breaks down or you have something unexpected comes up from across the country. You don’t want to have to pull out a credit card if you don’t have to. Save for retirement, save for college, save up for a vacation. No matter what it’s for, even just a rainy day, even just a dollar here and there, SAVE your money. You’ll thank me later.

Zimbabwe and the dollar crisis

March 2nd, 2009

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The Zimbabwean dollar was introduced in August 2006, equal to 1000 of the prior Zimbabwean. However, Zimbabwe’s downwardly spiralling economy and hyperinflation caused by Zimbabwe’s involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has left its local currency worthless. During the start of the war, inflation was at an annual rate of 32% but later rose to a mind - boggling 231,000,000% in July 2008, forcing the Central Bank of Zimbabwe to introduce a new 100 billion dollar note.

The country now has the highest inflation rate in the world. This means that its own currency, which was once on par with the British pound, has now been reduced to nothing. This has forced Zimbabweans to pay trillions of dollars for buying a loaf of bread. But the worst is yet to come for the Zimbabweans as the prices are doubling every 1.3 days.

The government of Zimbabwe is left with various economic problems, after having abandoned earlier efforts to develop a market-oriented economy. Local residents, having left with no option, were forced to buy food and other essentials from neighbouring Botswana, South Africa and Zambia.

The falling economy meant that the exchange rate for the Zimbabwean dollar fell from 24 old Zimbabwean dollars per U.S dollar (USD) in 1998 to to 250,000 prior or 250 new Zimbabwean dollars per US Dollar at the official rate. This was equivalent to 120,000,000 old or 120,000 revalued Zimbabwean dollars per US Dollar on the parallel market, in June 2007.

In the wake of the crisis, Zimbabwe introduced the new Z$100 trillion banknote, and announced that Zimbabweans would be allowed to use other, more stable currencies (e: g the Euro) to do business, alongside the Zimbabwean dollar. However during this period Civil servants were not being paid their salaries and there was widespread discontent among Civil servants, with teachers refusing to attend schools because they were not being paid. Nurses and doctors followed suit and the government was put under extreme pressure.

In an effort to curb the inflation, the RBZ announced that a further 12 zeros were to be taken off the currency – reducing one trillion dollars to one dollar. Meanwhile, as unrests continued to grow among the working class, the government announced that civil servants would be paid in foreign currency and appealed for them to return to work. It was agreed that soldiers and civil servants would be paid in US dollars to help revive the shattered economy. Some 130,000 government employees were paid $100 a month tax-free, replacing their local salaries. Soldiers were the first to be paid in vouchers redeemable for cash. Analysts felt that this was the first concrete step from the new government to prevent a collapse of the system, and restore sanity and trust among the people, for the government.

Poor health, corruption and controversial programmes introduced by the government have seen Zimbabwe dropping from being Africa’s strongest economies to one of the worst economies in the world. The advent of the dollar in the Zimbabwean economy was seen as a ray of hope for the people of Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans have a long way to go to restore the lost pride of its nation. In the dollar, Zimbabweans can look at the world’s dominant economy as a guiding star to lead Zimbabwe out of its economic crisis and pave the way for a better future for the people of Zimbabwe.

The Story of Change- No not President Obama, I’m talking about money here!

March 2nd, 2009

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The story of American money started more than three centuries ago. Before this, settlers mostly bartered goods for goods. Crops like tobacco and corn and pork and butter were widely used. Learning from the Native Americans who used stringed clamshell beads, or wampum, European colonists adopted the wampum among trades with the Native Americans and then, amongst themselves.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony contracted John Hull to begin minting coins. Hull set up a mint in Boston and began producing “NE” (New England) coins in 1652. The NE coins were very easy to counterfeit, only having NE on one side and XII on the other. The coin was redesigned from 1667-1682. Eventually as more and more people came to the New World and brought their money with them, the settlers and colonists relied on foreign money for buying and selling. Money from Europe, Mexico and South America could be found at any given time. These coins mixed in with the NE coins and wampum and were all used for purchasing, barter and trade.

Early in the 18th century, a large amount of copper coins were imported from England and Ireland for the purpose of making more coins for the colonies. In 1776, dollar-sized coins were produced with a sundial and the inscription “Mind Your Business” on the front and “American Congress We Are One” on the back. These pieces were struck in three different metals; those struck in pewter are scarce or rare, while the silver and brass examples as extremely rare. The Articles of Confederation, adopted on July 9, 1778, gave Congress the ability to place the value on the coins that were struck by each state. At that time, the states each had the right to strike their own coins, there was just no fluidity in their values until the Articles came about.

Finally in 1792 the U.S. Mint was established by Congress. The U.S. Mint makes all U.S. Coins and became an operating bureau of the Treasury Department in 1873. To this day, U.S. coins typically have a mint mark showing which mint it was produced by. The Philadelphia Mint has been the longest in continuous operation, since 1792. The Denver Mint began coin producing in 1906. The newest mints were the West Point, New York, and San Francisco which gained official status in 1988.

From 1965-1968 there were no identifications used to tell where coins were minted. In 1968 the mints resumed putting their initials on the coins. Coins minted in Philadelphia had a P or no letter, Denver has a D, West Point a W and S for San Francisco. To this day, look at your coins and right under the date there should be a letter telling you where that coin was minted and if no letter is present, your coin was minted in Philadelphia!

Coins’ designs and values have changed over the years from the half-penny to silver dollars. The designs will continue to change as society deems it necessary . For now, the coins in your pocket have come a long way to get there because there was a time when there was a lack of United States coins.

The History of the Paper Dollar

February 28th, 2009

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The Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first of the thirteen colonies to issue permanently circulating banknotes in 1690. The reason behind this was because the paper could be more readily printed and circulated than gold coin. Many of these early bills were marked “Tis Death to Counterfeit.” In the early 1700s, each of the thirteen colonies had issued their own banknotes called “colonial script.” 1789 brought about the First Band of the United States which issued fixed denominations and printed banknotes until 1811 when it closed. From 1816 to 1841, the (you guessed it) Second Bank of the United States took on the responsibilities of printing banknotes.


The civil war, in 1861, needed to be funded with money that there just wasn’t enough of. In 1862, under Abraham Lincoln, the demand notes were issued, taking the place of interest bearing currency. Some necessities were added and changed in the next few years in order to stop counterfeiters. The new “Greenbacks” had an engraved Treasury seal and red and blue fibers in the paper which made them (at the time) very difficult to counterfeit which would cost the banks more money. Gold certificates were also issued against gold coin and bullion and were still in circulation until 1933 as well as silver certificates being issued for silver dollars until 1957. 1865 brought on the need for a Secret Service to police and control counterfeiters. How much was that really needed and how much of the US’s money was counterfeit? Oh only about one-third!


The one dollar United States Note was redesigned with a portrait of George Washington in the center and a vignette of Christopher Columbus. The back of the note also featured green and blue tinting. In 1880 the red floral design was added around the words “One Dollar” and “Washington D.C.” From 1890 to 1899 the gold and silver certificates were redesigned repeatedly in order to continue to make them harder and harder to be counterfeited. In 1910 the Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing took on all currency production functions including engraving, printing and processing. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 created the Federal Reserve System. This means that the Federal Reserve became the central bank, regulating the flow of money. The Federal Reserve also became, to this day, the only authorized entity to issue Federal Reserve Notes (also known as, The Dollar(s)) which are the only U.S. currency produced and 99% of all currency in circulation!


“In God We Trust” No matter your religion, you know this phrase. This phrase was required by Congress in 1955 to be on every piece of currency and to this day, it still is. The last major change that was made was the microprinted security thread which was first introduced in 1990. It started with the $100 bills and the $50 bills, then eventually was introduced into the $20s, $10s, $5s, and $1s. Take a look at the money in your wallet. Now you know part of the long road traveled it took to get there.

Dollarization in Foreign Economies

February 10th, 2009

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dollarizationThe term “Dollarization” is when the inhabitants of a country use foreign currency along with (or in place of) their own domestic currency.  Dollarization is not only applied to usage of the United States Dollar, but generally to the use of any other country’s foreign currency as the accepted currency.  Some other currencies that are widely accepted outside of their issuing country of origin are:  the Euro, the South African Rand, the Russian Ruble, and both the New Zealand and Australian Dollars.  For today, however, we’ll focus primarily on the United States Dollar.

Dollarization has never really received much attention, due to the fact that it was generally believed to be politically impossible until 1999, when Jamil Mahuad (then President of Ecuador) attempted official Dollarization through economic reforms of Ecuador’s economy.  He declared a freeze on the country’s bank accounts, in an attempt to control inflation.  This economic plan ultimately lead to a military coup and Mahuad was ousted from office.

Since that time, there have been several other countries that have considered and implemented it as that country’s official policy.  El Salvador, for example, officially adopted the United States dollar in 2001.

Dollarization can fall into three basic categories:

1.  Official Dollarization:  The dollar is the only legal tender, officially adopted, and there is no local currency.  Some examples of countries where this has happened are:  Panama, El Salvador, and Ecuador.  Since their independence in 1903, for example, Panama has used only the United States Dollar exclusively.

This reduces the foreign country’s economic risk, providing a secure, stable economic environment.  These generally tend to be “developing” countries, with transitional economies, especially those with high inflation.

Amazingly enough, the United States Government does not have to provide approval to allow for another country to use its currency as legal tender.

2.  Unofficial Dollarization:  This occurs when private agents, generally in private transactions, prefer the foreign currency over the domestic currency. They might hold, for example, deposits in the foreign currency because of a bad track record of the local currency.  The practice might be widely accepted in that country, but is not classified as “legal tender” by the country’s government.

This can sometimes occur in countries where the United States Dollar has become more prevalent in circulation than the country’s own local currency.  This can be difficult to reverse.

3.  Semi-Dollarization:  Also known as a “Bimonetary System”, foreign currency is legal tender, but plays a role secondary to domestic currency.  Both the United States Dollar and the country’s own currency are used interchangeably.  Cambodia and Lebanon are two countries that practice this, for example.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to Dollarization for a country.

The advantages would be:  Fiscal discipline, resulting in lower inflation and financial stability.  This results in business being easier to conduct within that country, due to the resulting “peace of mind“.  The United States Dollar, for example, has never been devalued, nor has the United States’ notes ever been invalidated.  For a country that has had a past history of bank failures, devaluation and inflation, the temptation of adopting the United States Dollar is strong.

Some disadvantages would be:  Loss of control by the local government, as they lose power and control over inflation and fiscal policy.

It has been estimated that approximately 40-60% of existing United States currency circulates outside of the U.S.  This estimate has been further reinforced by the actions of the U.S. Government, which produced posters and pamphlets between 2003 and 2006, outlining the new look and anti-counterfeiting features of the “New” United States bills in an ASTOUNDING 24 LANGUAGES!

So, the next time you travel outside of the United States and encounter U.S. Currency, or even the next time you pull a Dollar out of your wallet, beaten and worn, looking like it has been “Around the World”, ask yourself:  Where has it been, What countries it has seen,  and how many different hands it has been exchanged through?

To find out where YOUR dollar has been, please visit our FREE Online Dollar Tracking System by clicking on “Enter a Dollar Bill” on the menu above!

The Color of Money: Why is a Greenback Green?

February 9th, 2009

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greenbackIn 1929, when the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing introduced the small-size note, that we currently use today, green pigment was readily available in large quantities.  The color was relatively resistant to physical and chemical changes, and the color was viewed to be psychologically identified with the security and strength of the United States Government.

More importantly, this newly developed ink had protective qualities that could not be easily “lifted” from the note itself, which had been a favorite technique of counterfeiters in the past.  Since the mid-1800’s, it had been customary to print bills in black, with different slight variants of color.  When photographed, the color variants would show only in black, since early cameras could only photograph in black.  Not to be outdone, the counterfeiter soon discovered that they could remove the colored elements from the Bill, photograph the remaining black ink elements, make copies, and then overprint an imitation of the colored parts on the newly made copies.

A new solution was needed, and was quickly developed. The development, as well as the patent purchase for this ink, was by Tracy R. Edson, who later Founded the American Banknote Company, one of the same firms that produced the first currency used by the United States.

The faces of these early notes that were produced under contract were printed with the newly patented green tinted protective ink.

When printing with oil-base type inks, like the new “patent green,” it is not unusual for the color to show through to the opposite side of the sheet.  Therefore, the backs of early notes were printed in a darker shade of green to make the “strike through” of the tint less obvious.

The transition to the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing was gradual, so the backs of the notes produced there during the intervening period were continued to be printed in green for the sake of uniformity.

Once the Bureau was in full-scale production, there was no reason to change the traditional color, and it was only logical that the practice continue.

Thus, the “greenback” was born!

The Bureau currently uses a technique called “Intaglio Printing,” which involves a revolving plate, filled with the grooves containing the design and wording.  These grooves are filled with ink and then wiped clean on the surface.  The paper is forced with approximately 20 tons of pressure onto the plate, picking up the ink contained within the finely recessed lines and grooves, leaving the surface of the newly printed currency with a slightly “raised” feel, while the reverse has a slightly indented feel.

Thanks to new technology introduced in the last few years, the newly redesigned, recently introduced United States Currency features some new splashes of color on the various denominations, using an “Optically Variable Ink” (or OVI).  This ink allows a shift in color variation when held at different angles.

A copy machine, for example, scans a document at ONE FIXED ANGLE, relative to the bill’s angle when placed on the glass, thus not picking up the color shift.

This ink, produced by a Swiss company called SIPCA, is not readily available and thus aids in deferring counterfeiting.

So, the next time you reach in your wallet and pull out a Greenback, you’ll know why it’s green!

Wallet Phones

December 24th, 2008

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wallet phoneWhat’s your idea of a bad day? Imagine leaving home without your wallet or purse? Does this sound like the makings for a very bad day? If it does, perhaps you should read on to discover why things might not really be as bad as they sound.

A Japanese company called “DoCoMo” has created “wallet phones” and is now actively marketing them throughout Japan. These actual cell phones are the size of a credit card and are fitted with a special computer chip which allows users to not only use the phone for things we’d ordinarily use one for, but all allows them to pay for things using their cell phone. Wallet Phones can currently be used just like credit and debit cards all over Japan to withdraw cash from automatic teller machines, pay for purchases in stores and restaurants, vending machines and arcades. It is anticipated that in the near future, owners will be able to check in with their airlines, pay for train rides, rent videos, and even have their office keys built into their cell phones.  Drivers license information could be encrypted into the chip on the phone.While the technology has not quite made it into the United States just yet, it is expected to do so shortly. Wallet phones will be able to be used the same way as a debit cards and can hold more than one credit card. The functionality will provide owners with an easy and convenient way to organize their lives including their financial information at the palm of their hands.

Many people already rely heavily upon their SmartPhones as a way of maintaining their emails, calendars, contact information, to-do lists, appointment setting, photos, music, and of course phone calls. The new wallet phone will take it a step further to allow everything to be incorporated into one simple machine which fits in the palm of your hand, therefore eliminating the need to carry a separate wallet. Now, about getting that tube of lipstick to fit in the cell phone, you’re on your own! In the meantime, look for a Wallet Phone coming to a store near you soon. That way, instead of worrying whether you forgot your wallet or purse at home, you won’t want to leave home without your phone. But hey, look on the bright side, it’s one less thing to remember, right?

Remote Deposit Functionality

December 24th, 2008

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remote depositHave you ever been a few days away from pay day, short on cash, but needing to buy something? We’ve all been there. And face it, most people have done what has been coined as “floating a check” at some point in their lives. You know what I’m talking about; with little to no money in your checking account, you write a check for the amount of your purchase knowing it will take a few days for the merchant to cash the check and the check to make its way from the merchant’s bank to your bank and come out of your account. While risky, this action has made it possible for many Americans to make it from paycheck to paycheck with the things they need. However, thanks to a new technology called “remote deposit” the days of “floating checks” may soon, if not already, be over.

Previously, merchants accepted checks in their store and made daily or weekly deposits at the bank by manually grouping all checks received and calculating the deposit. They then drove to the bank where a teller would confirm the deposit and sometimes place a one to ten days hold on items to ensure they were processed as “clear”, or ensure that there were enough funds in the originators account to cover the amount of the check.  Merchants are unable to access any of the funds that have been placed on hold for the set amount of time. Sometimes it could take days for checks to travel from various banks around the country.

“Remote Deposit” is a technology which makes making bank deposits much easier and faster for merchants. In the store, clerks accept personal checks, business checks, and money orders from customers. They run each item through a small machine which scans the document and records a digital image of the front and back of the document. The image is then grouped and through the use of specially designed software, deposited into the store’s bank account through the Internet. The new technology makes it possible for merchants to access their money faster, eliminate trips to the bank, and makes handling checks much easier for merchants.

As we become a more globalized society, banks have begun to accommodate our lifestyles by providing us with technology that suits our needs quickly and efficiently. The new Remote Deposit technology makes it easier and faster for money to travel. With this technology, writing a check is now almost as fast as swiping a credit card through a terminal. Essentially, the two technologies work much in the same way. While the number of checks written each year in the United States is declining, due to the increased use of credit and debit cards, there are still over 40 billion checks written each year. This new “Remote Deposit” feature makes it easier and faster for these check transactions to take place. However, it also eliminates the time lapse in between the time a check is written and the time it is cashed, to allow for extra deposits to be made.