Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


A counterfeit is an imitation that is made with the intent to deceptively represent its content or origins. The word counterfeit most frequently describes forged money or documents, but can also describe clothing, software, pharmaceuticals, or any other manufactured item.


Counterfeiting money is probably as old as money itself. However, the introduction of paper money has made it an easier thing to do.

Nations have used counterfeiting as a means of warfare. The idea is to over flow the enemy's economy with fake bank notes, so that the real value of the money plummets. This was attempted by the United States during the American Civil War. However, fake Confederate currency was of superior quality to the real thing.

During World War II, the Nazis attempted to do a similar thing to the Allies. The Nazis took Jewish artists in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and forced them to forge British pounds and American dollars. The quality of the counterfeiting was very good, and was almost impossible to distinguish between the real and fake bills. The Germans could not put their plan into action, and were forced to dump the counterfit into a lake, and was not recovered until the 1950's. Over one billion American dollars were forged, and economists estimate that that would have seriously damaged the American war effort.

(rough notes) two classes of counterfeiting - one to deceive as to the content (gold coins, pharmaceuticals) and one to deceive as to the source (paper currency, software)

Anti-Counterfeiting Measures

Traditionally, anti-counterfeiting measures involved including fine detail with raised intaglio printing on bills which would allow non-experts to easily spot forgeries. On coins, milled or reeded (marked with parallel grooves) edges are used to show that none of the valuable metal has been scraped off. This detects the shaving or clipping (paring off) of the rim of the coin. However, it does not detect sweating, or shaking coins in a bag and to collect the resultant dust. Since this technique removes a smaller amount, it is primarily used on the most valuable coins, primarily gold.

In the late twentieth century advances in computer and photocopy technology made it possible for people without sophisticated training to easily copy currency. In response, national engraving bureaus began to include new more sophisticated anti-counterfeiting systems such as holograms, multi-colored bills, embedded devices such as strips, microprinting and inks whose colors changed depending on the angle of the light.

See also: Secret Service, Currency