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.