Mysterious $100 'supernote' counterfeit bills appear across world
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The only way to distinguish some of the "supernotes," experts say, is to compare photographically blown-up sections with magnifying instruments, as these craftworkers did recently in Tokyo. About $50 million of the mystery money has been seized since 1989.
One other interesting difference: The fakes lack microscopic ink splotches that appear on real U.S. currency, which is made in large press runs and stacked one sheet on another.
The ink’s maker, a Swiss firm named Sicpa, mixes the ink at a secure U.S. government facility. The highly specialized and regulated tint also is used on the space shuttle’s windows. A Sicpa spokeswoman declined to discuss the supernotes, but offered an important fact: “We ceased all OVI deliveries (to North Korea) in early 2001, and later in the year all security ink supplies.”
Ferguson, who ran the Bureau of Engraving and Printing from 1998 to 2005, said: “They are not using somebody else’s paper or bleaching the ink off of genuine notes. Someone specifically made paper, which is a pretty big commitment.”
The supernotes incorporate at least 19 running changes that the United States has made to its engraving plates since 1989, from the names of Treasury secretaries and treasurers to blowing up the image of Ben Franklin on the $100 — something that most counterfeiters can’t or don’t bother to do.
In 1996, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing redesigned the $100 bill, adding security features and an off-center, larger Franklin portrait. In less than a year, new supernotes appeared.
“It goes way beyond what normal counterfeiters are able to do,” said Bender, whose book first spotlighted the improbability of North Korean supernotes. “And it is so elaborate it doesn’t pay for the counterfeiting anymore.”
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Former McClatchy Beijing Bureau news assistant Linjin Fan contributed to this report.