By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – When people think of counterfeit money, they often think about scrutinizing that funny looking $100 bill or getting a bum $20 back in change at a convenience store. What few people may be aware of is counterfeit currency comes in all denominations, right down to that loonie or twoonie in your change dish.
Corporal Julie MacFarlane-Smith, a counterfeit money expert with the RCMP Commercial Crime Section, was in Morinville Feb. 6 to give Citizen’s Academy participants an opportunity to see some bogus bills and corrupt coins up close.
Among her collection of fraudulent currency, MacFarlane-Smith brought along examples of counterfeit $1 and $2 coins, currency that varied in quality. Although both coins would easily pass a casual observation without raising an eyebrow, the workmanship on the $1 coin was inferior to that of the counterfeit $2: the bill of the loon on the $1 coin, when viewed under a magnifying glass was detached from the bird’s body. The $2 coin’s workmanship was remarkably spot on, except for the centre diameter colouring, which was off calendar slightly, indicating the material was applied as an after-coating. In both cases, the counterfeit coins had a different resonance than the real article when dropped on a table. The counterfeit coins had a tinny sound compared to the plunk of the authentic Canadian currency.
“I bet you there’s lots of these floating around and everyone’s spending them like they’re genuine,” MacFarlane-Smith said of the counterfeit coins, adding she had personally received one herself at a garage sale in Westlock.
But while you may be buying your next coffee with a fake coin, MacFarlane-Smith said the most commonly counterfeited Canadian currency is the $20 bill because so many stores are refusing to take bill denominations larger than the $20.
The money expert said there are many security features in Canadian currency. A process of touching, tilting and looking at the bill can reveal most of them. Beyond features, including raised ink, colour changing patches and ghost images on the bills, there are still other features that can only be analyzed at the lab level to determine if a bill is truly counterfeit, something that needs to be done to convict in counterfeiting cases. MacFarlane-Smith said one area she has yet to see successfully replicated in the current series of bills is the threading that interweaves through Canadian bills on the left hand side of the bill. When tilted the feature reveals a solid line but appears broken when looked at straight on.
Although the Bank of Canada website has plenty of information on what to look for in a bill to make sure it is in fact legal tender, store owners and business people are not obligated to accept any bill passed their way. “You have the right not to take it,” MacFarlane-Smith said, noting the banks will exchange the bill for a more acceptable one, but businesses simply do not have a legal obligation to accept a bill they are not comfortable with. “Would you rather take something you are really not sure of and then get stuck with it?”
The counterfeit expert said the reason Canada changes its currency as often as it does is to keep ahead of counterfeiters who are constantly working to mimic current security features. She said it is hoped Canada’s new polymer bills, which will include the $50 this March, will thwart counterfeiters for some time. Although Australia has a window in its polymer currency, MacFarlane-Smith said the new Canadian notes are the first to have a full top to bottom window with security features.
While the bills have increased security, they also have an increased life. “It’s a little bit more expensive to make, but they last three-and-a-half times longer,” she said. “The 100s probably last 10 years. I think the shelf life on a $20 will be about three or four years.”
But regardless of the shelf life of Canada’s good bills, counterfeit versions are not meant to stay in circulation long. Whether a person comes in possession of a counterfeit coin or bill, the onus is the same – turn it in immediately. “By law, you have to turn that in, and you will eat it because you got stuck with it,” MacFarlane-Smith said.
For more information on Canadian bank note security features visit bankofcanada.ca/banknotes.