I can't believe it's not a greenback

Counterfeit $100 bills are circling the globe, and their story is intriguing. These bills are so well done that that it's next to impossible to tell that they're fakes. They've been dubbed "supernotes" because of their precision.

Experts say these are the most sophisticated examples of counterfeit U.S. currency ever seen. They are made of the exact same cotton and linen mix from which legitimate U.S. currency is made. They even have the proper-colored microfibers and an embedded strip that glows under ultraviolet light... both key pieces of currency that are supposed to be difficult to counterfeit. The fake bills also have the proper microprint and optically variable ink (OVI) that distinguishes authentic U.S currency.

Authorities say the bills haven't been printed in large quantities. Only $50 million of supernotes have been found since 1989, which is estimated to be too little to even cover the cost of the sophisticated printing process required.

Some experts say the organization doing this almost certainly has access to some of the government's printing equipment. Some are even suggesting that the government itself is printing these fake notes for intelligence purposes. Others think that it may be foreign governments doing it to undermine the value of the dollar and the strength of our economy.

The counterfeiters have had an unusual ability to keep up with changes in the currency. Since 1989, there have been 19 changes to real U.S. currency, and the counterfeiters have mastered them all. However, there are some small differences in the fake notes, and experts wonder why such good counterfeiters would print money with obvious errors.

The counterfeiting remains a mystery, as experts say that the cost of producing these bills definitely exceeds the amount put into circulation. So what would be the purpose of the counterfeiting? Whatever the case, our government isn't commenting on the issue.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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