Counterfeit U.S. Currency Abroad

Issues and U.S. Deterrence Efforts Gao ID: GGD-96-11 February 26, 1996

U.S. currency, reportedly the most widely held in the world, is susceptible to counterfeiting. The Federal Reserve estimates that of the $380 billion of U.S. currency in circulation, more than 60 percent may be held outside the United States. The widespread use of U.S. currency abroad, together with the outdated security features of the currency, make it particularly vulnerable to international counterfeiters. Widespread counterfeiting of U.S. currency could undermine confidence in the dollar and, if done on a large enough scale, could harm the U.S. economy. This report discusses (1) the nature of counterfeiting of U.S. currency abroad, (2) the extent of that counterfeiting and of concerns about this issue, and (3) the status of U.S. efforts to deter such counterfeiting. GAO summarized this report in testimony before Congress; see: Counterfeit U.S. Currency Abroad: Observations on Counterfeiting and U.S. Deterrence Efforts, by JayEtta Z. Hecker, Associate Director for International Relations and Trade Issues, before the Subcommittee on General Oversight and Investigations, House Committee on Banking and Financial Services. GAO/T-GGD-96-82, Feb. 27 (21 pages).

GAO found that: (1) counterfeit U.S. currency is used for economic gain and illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, arms sales, and terrorist activity; (2) there are several techniques used to counterfeit U.S currency, including photocopying, the raised note technique, computer assisted printing, bleaching and reprinting, and photomechanics; (3) the offset printing method offers the highest quality of counterfeit notes and can only be detected by experienced bank tellers; (4) it is difficult to determine the extent of counterfeiting abroad because of the lack of accurate counterfeit detection data and foreign officials reluctance to view counterfeiting as a serious problem; (5) of the $380 billion in U.S. currency circulated in fiscal year 1994, $208.7 million was counterfeit, which represented less than one one-thousandth of U.S. currency in circulation at that time; and (6) the U.S. government is involved in various counterfeit deterrence activities, including redesigning U.S. currency, increasing the presence of the Secret Service and the exchange of information abroad, and seizing the production and distribution capabilities used in counterfeiting of U.S. currency.

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