Albert Talton's wild ride: Lessons from a $7 million dollar counterfeiter

When Albert Talton decided to print some of his own money, he had no experience in counterfeiting, printing, or graphic design. A career criminal with a curious and meticulous nature, at the time Talton didn't even own a computer.

His first batches of fake bills were created using a standard HP desktop printer. And they weren't very good. Yet, according to a story by, Talton soon became one of the most accomplished and prolific counterfeiters in the history of the U.S.

Over the course of three years, Talton managed to evade capture and print $7 million worth of $100 bills. His team used garden variety laser printers, computers and imaging software to circumvent sophisticated anti-forgery technologies built into every bill. The case illustrates how technology has made it much easier to commit high crimes with tools available at a typical consumer electronics store. Every week or so, Talton picked up new printer cartridges from his local Staples store, dropped off his empty cartridges at the store's recycling bin, and even used a rewards card to collect points to use for future purchases. On May 15, he was finally caught with five accomplices, according to Coin News.
How good was Talton? Most counterfeiters do not make more than $10,000 worth of bills before they are caught,according to Talton's illicit talents certainly funded a nifty lifestyle. During his counterfeit spree, Talton spent lavishly on expensive home audio equipment and exotic cars, including a $140,000 Mercedes Benz. He also became one of the most wanted men by the U.S. Secret Service, the government agency that polices counterfeiting, one of only two crimes mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

Because the trustworthiness of U.S. currency is such a key underpinning of the U.S. economy and society, counterfeiting is considered among the most serious offenses, along with murder and kidnapping. Hardcore counterfeiters can even be considered a higher law enforcement priority than capital offenders. Talton knew none of this when he launched his bogus bills career on a lark after his boss showed him a faux $50 in late 2004. Recently released from prison, Talton was working in an autobody shop in Southern California.

The challenge of producing a good fake bill challenged his do-it-yourself intellect. And Talton loved such challenges. Many years earlier he had purchased a Bose sound system and dissembled the unit in order to learn how a special technology worked. Talton then reverse engineered the product then went out and bought components to build a homemade version, recounts

Similarly, Talton learned how to emulate the precise look and feel of U.S. currency. His bills first caught the notice of the U.S. Secret Service in June 2005. Talton initially started spending the bills himself at large chain stores to avoid detection. He later enlisted accomplices to help him print and sell the bills to intermediaries who then resold the bills to others. His bills were so good that Talton and his crew could not keep up with demand.

But his capture was probably inevitable. Talton's organization did little to hide its identity. After shoppers at an H&M Store were busted for trying to pass off the bogus bills, they were able to point the authorities to people who were working directly with Talton. The whole scheme quickly unraveled. On August 11, 2008, Talton pled guilty to charges of conspiracy and manufacturing counterfeit notes. He was later sentenced to nine years in federal prison. But the moral of the story is clear. With modern technology and a little bit of ingenuity, anyone can become the country's biggest counterfeiter.
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