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Countering the counterfeits


October 26, 2012
By Singrid Forberg

890 words – MR

Countering the counterfeits

Canada’s new bank notes provide more security

by Singrid Forberg

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Rates of counterfeiting bills are currently at a low, leaving many wondering why the Bank of Canada has chosen now to unveil new high-tech polymer bills.

For the bank, it’s all about ensuring those levels stay low and Canadians’ trust in their currency stays high.

“We want to ensure Canadians can use their cash with confidence,” says Julie Girard, a senior analyst in media relations with the currency department. “We wanted to be pre-emptive rather than reactive to stay ahead of the curve.”

Starting with the new $100 in November 2011, the bank has been staggering the release of the new series, which will conclude with the $10 and $5 to be released by late 2013.

{Risk makes for rewards}

Usually, the bank unveils new notes every 15 years or so, but with recent technological advances it realized that keeping up with counterfeiters would require more frequent updates.

The new notes, made of a durable plastic called polymer, are a big shift for the bank. Changing everything down to the material carried a certain amount of risk.

“Of course the Bank of Canada is risk-averse, but we wanted to take calculated risks,” says Martine Warren, a scientific adviser with the currency department. “We’re fortunate in that we had a lot of leeway, basically a blank page to work with.”

Moving away from the traditional cotton-paper notes makes the notes more secure and ensures Canada’s new currency stands out on the world stage.

The numerous and innovative security features include metallic images, transparent text, raised ink, hidden numbers and small and large transparent windows.

The large window on the right side of the bill, complete with metallic portraits on top and a building on the bottom, embossed lettering and numbers and maple leafs is unique to Canada. No other country currently has such a large window in its notes.

Girard says few people realize just how much it takes to launch a new series. It took years of development and consultations to get the notes ready to roll out.

“I always tell people it’s a very small piece of real estate that the developers have to work with,” says Girard. “It takes a lot of work and effort to fit all the security features into such a small piece of polymer.”

{Fighting the fakes}

Everyone from police officers to focus groups were consulted on what they wanted and needed to be comfortable and happy with the new notes.

Information provided by the RCMP about counterfeiting helped the bank decide what security features needed improving and also what police officers would need to help investigators and the general public recognize works of forgery.

Also based on law enforcement information, the bank determined what materials and machines counterfeiters typically use in producing the fakes and set out to determine how difficult it would be to make counterfeits.

Although possible, it found it’s much more difficult, expensive and frustrating to copy or mimic the polymer notes compared to the cotton-paper ones.

“We really enjoy working with the RCMP,” says Girard. “We’ve had a positive and fruitful relationship that has resulted in some really interesting seizures and helpful feedback.”

That relationship continues as the bank works with police officers across the country to familiarize them with the new notes and their security features, offering free training and making staff available for questions, comments and concerns.

It also collaborates with police and prosecutors through its compliance unit, which develops special legal tools and resources.

For the Bank of Canada, all that hard work will pay off in the long run. It is quite proud of the new notes – and not just for security reasons.

The polymer also ensures the bills will last nearly 2.5 times longer, stay cleaner, be waterproof and at the end of their life cycle, they can be recycled. There’s also the esthetic appeal.

“We picked images that are distinctly Canadian, lasting and reflective of Canadian values,” says Warren. “The whole series is something we can all be proud of as Canadians.”

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Polymer banknotes not a Canadian first

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Polymer banknotes have been in general use in Australia since 1992. They were developed by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and The University of Melbourne and were first issued as currency in Australia in 1988. These banknotes are made from the polymer biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP), which greatly enhances durability of the banknotes and incorporate many security features not available to paper banknotes.

Trading as “Securency,” the RBA together with Innovia Films market BOPP as ‘Guardian’ for countries, such as Canada, with their own banknote printing facilities.

An alternative polymer of polyethylene fibres marketed as Tyvek by DuPont was developed for use as currency by the American Bank Note Company in the early 1980s. Tyvek did not perform well in trials; smudging of ink and fragility were reported as problems. Only Costa Rica and Haiti issued Tyvek banknotes; test notes were produced for Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Venezuela but never placed in circulation.

Additionally, English printer Bradbury Wilkinson produced a version on Tyvek but marketed as Bradvek for the Isle of Man in 1983; however, they are no longer produced and have become collectors’ items.