Spot the difference: How to tell which notes are fake
HAVE you ever been suspicious of a $50 note you ended up with? The Reserve Bank of Australia is raising awareness of counterfeit currency as it detects tens of thousands of forged notes every year.
Counterfeits are worth keeping an eye out for. You don't want to end up with one in your wallet. If you get stuck with a counterfeit banknote, you don't get compensated for handing it in, and if you try to spend it you are potentially committing a crime.
This may seem unfair but it is the only way to police counterfeiting. If it was possible to get compensation for handing in dodgy banknotes it would be easy to set up a system that passed notes out to people who then hand them in for a reward. So the onus is on law-abiding Australians to look closely at the money that lands in their hands.
The RBA brought in a newly designed $5 note in 2016 and a new $10 note in 2017. In 2018 they skipped introducing a new $20 note and went straight to a new $50 note, which came in about six months ago. That is in part because the old $50 was popular among counterfeiters.
As this next graph shows, $50 notes are the most often forged.
There are still old $50 notes out there so you still need to be aware of counterfeit "pineapples". But with the security features on the new $50 being tougher to fake, the $100 note is probably the riskiest one now.
As the graph above shows, its popularity has been growing among counterfeiters over the past few years. Dodgy $20 notes could emerge too, until its replacement arrives in October 2019.
Australia's rate of counterfeiting is not as high as the UK, where counterfeiting is a major category of crime, but it is much higher than comparable countries such as Canada or New Zealand.
Victoria and NSW have the highest rates of counterfeit currency in Australia, and detecting counterfeits relies on members of the public alerting the authorities.
Not long ago in Queensland, a sharp service station attendant noticed that a $50 note coming across the counter seemed dodgy, and contacted the police about it.
The colour of the note was wrong, he said, and it felt funny too. Not long afterwards the police spotted the car of the man who had tried to pass off the note, and pulled it over. The driver turned out to have a strange-looking $50 note in his wallet and another 15 the same in the centre console.
The driver said he got the money from the sale of a trailer and insisted he was planning to hand the notes in to the police later that day. Police decided to tow his car anyway.
When they were doing so they noticed something funny about one of the front doors. The electric window control was loose. They had a quick look and realised why: Another 290 fake $50 notes were stashed inside the door. The man was convicted in late 2018 under the Crimes (Currency) Act and got an 18 month sentence from a Brisbane District Court.
This guy was trying to hand off notes that were easy to spot. But high-quality counterfeits are common in Australia, as the next graph shows. Over one third of counterfeits are considered "high quality".
When Australia moved from paper money to plastic it was supposed to deter counterfeiters. But as the next graph shows, the bad guys do not stop innovating. More than half of Australian counterfeits are on polymer.
Looking at the graph above, you might wonder why anyone would use paper to forge Australian banknotes. One answer is what they call "Hell Money". This is part of a cultural practice where people burn fake money as an offering to their ancestors. While this is legal, the money in question is not allowed to look too similar to real banknotes. When it does, there is a risk of the money actually being spent, so police will seize and destroy hell money that is too lifelike.
Sometimes police bust counterfeiters before they spread money into the community. But most of the time they only find counterfeits once they are out there being spent. Sometimes counterfeit notes can be out in the community for years before they are detected. It's worth keeping an eye out for them.
But it is probably also an additional reason to keep doing what most Australians are already doing, and using cash less and less.