In my upcoming novel Record Scratch (preorder here) I take the reader into the world of counterfeit currency. This was a field in which I got involved when I was a Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service and counterfeit currency cases were the favorite criminal cases I worked.
Although cash transactions are fewer and fewer here in the U.S., they are still common and counterfeiting is still an issue. In fact, it’s been a problem in North America since before the creation of the United States.
Shells and Stones May Break My Bones…
In colonial America, shells and stones were used as currency. These were easily counterfeited (upon penalty of death) and colonies eventually moved toward metal coins. However, with the eruption of the Revolutionary War, using metal for coins wasn’t much of an option since metal was needed for weaponry. Now the colonies had already been playing around with using paper money in various forms, with interesting results. For instance, Benjamin Franklin had printed money in Pennsylvania and integrated intricate anti-counterfeiting security features such as detailed engravings of leaves into his work. Most interestingly, he would misspell “Pennsylvania” intentionally, so that would-be counterfeiters would believe THEY had inadvertently picked up a counterfeit bill and would correct the misspelling when they printed the money, therefore giving themselves away.
During the Revolutionary War, the British took advantage of the colonial paper money by counterfeiting much of it, and devaluing the currency. Hence the phrase, “Not worth a Continental” which you probably don’t say too often today. Maybe you do. Your call.
Near the end of the Civil War in 1865, nearly two-thirds of the currency floating around was phony. Not only did each state seem to have its own money, but many banks issued their own notes. So, nobody really knew what money was supposed to look like! Currency was nationalized and Abraham Lincoln created the United States Secret Service to covertly combat counterfeiting (the agency had nothing to do with Presidential protection until much later).
Evolution of Security Features
Over time, and with the transition from lithographic printing to offset printing, security features in money have become more advanced. There are currently seven denominations of paper currency considered to be in circulation: $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100. The higher the denomination, the more advanced the security features (there is no profit in counterfeiting a $1 bill). The security features have changed over time based on the Series (new designs) of the notes (all U.S. paper currency are technically “Federal Reserve Notes”) and there is a great resource to view all the features. The resource is the U.S. Currency Education Program and it’s run by the Federal Reserve Bank with assistance from the Secret Service and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. I LOVE this website.
Anyway, the key security features in U.S. paper currency are:
- The paper: It’s actually 75% cotton and 25% linen.
- Red & blue fibers: These are woven into the paper.
- Microprinting: Difficult to duplicate unless using an offset printer.*
- Raised printing: You can feel the ink raised off the currency paper.
- Color-shifting ink: Changes color when tilted.*
- Watermarks: Can be viewed through paper when held up to light.*
- Security Threads: Embedded in the paper.*
- 3D Security Ribbon: In the paper and includes shifting images.*
*present on some denominations
Most modern-day counterfeiting is small-time, low-quality, and done on computers. However, some mass offset printer counterfeiting still occurs and a good deal of decent counterfeit comes out of Lima, Peru as you can see here.
Know Your Money
So to make sure you’re carrying the real stuff, check out the U.S. Currency Education page, specifically the denominations section https://www.uscurrency.gov/denominations. Make sure you look at the correct Series of the note you are checking and click to expand on the Additional Features section on the right side of the screen (if available) to see all the security features of a particular denomination.
J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, a Thriller Award finalist which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, Bolt Action Remedy, Record Scratch, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
“There are two types of men you must fear in this world: Men who have everything to lose—and men like me.”
It’s a case Trevor Galloway doesn’t want. It’s certainly a case he doesn’t need. The client—the sister of a murdered musician—seems a bit off. She expects Galloway to not only solve her brother’s homicide, but recover a vinyl record she believes could ruin his reputation. Galloway knows he should walk away. He should simply reach over the desk, give back the envelope of cash that he admittedly needs, and walk away. However, when the client closes the meeting by putting a gun under her chin and pulling the trigger, his sense of obligation drags him down a path he may not be ready to travel.
A story divided into twelve songs from Jimmy Spartan’s final album.
Praise for RECORD SCRATCH:
“Record Scratch shocks you out of your ordinary groove. Sometimes witty, other times haunting, but when the needle jumps the track, the body count screams.” —Marc E. Fitch, author of Paradise Burns and Dirty Water
“In Record Scratch, Hensley, a former secret service agent, gifts us with a bounty of goods: a solid mystery, a damaged but relatable main character—one you root for, and swift plotting that weaves a compelling, compulsive tale of music and death and the demons carried by those in law enforcement. Bring me more Trevor!” —Shannon Kirk, international bestselling author of Method 15/33
“J.J. Hensley’s Record Scratch is a tersely written and tightly plotted gem, featuring one of the most unique protagonists around, Trevor Galloway, a man who has a way of getting himself into and out of trouble at an alarming rate. The book is action-packed with a dash of mordant wit, and I can’t wait to read more in this intense, engaging series.” —David Bell, USA Today bestselling author of Somebody’s Daughter
“J.J. Hensley’s tale of a stoic PI investigating the murder of a has-been rock star is equal parts classic whodunnit and gritty noir, peppered with high-octane action scenes that will leave you breathless. Record Scratch is like a throat punch: powerful, shocking, and unapologetic, but the surprising poignant ending will stay with you a long after you’ve finished the book. This is a thriller that crackles from the first page to the last.” —Jennifer Hillier, author of Jar of Hearts
BOLT ACTION REMEDY
Former Pittsburgh narcotics detective Trevor Galloway has been hired to look into the year-old homicide of a prominent businessman who was gunned down on his estate in Central Pennsylvania. When Galloway arrives, he determines the murder could have only been committed by someone extremely skilled in two areas: Skiing and shooting. He believes the assailant should not be too difficult to identify given the great amount of skill and athleticism needed to pull off the attack. When he discovers the victim’s property is next door to a biathlon training camp, the situation becomes significantly more complicated.
Galloway makes plenty of enemies as he sifts through stories about lucrative land deals, possible drug connections, and uncovers evidence suggesting the homicide may have been elaborate suicide. As he attempts to navigate through an unfamiliar rural landscape, he does his best not to succumb to an old drug addiction, or become confused by one of his occasional hallucinations. Oh, and a Pittsburgh drug gang enforcer known as The Lithuanian—if he’s even real—is tracking Galloway and wants to take his eyes. Galloway would rather keep those.
In Bolt Action Remedy, the typically quiet streets of Washaway Township, Pennsylvania become the epicenter of a mystery involving elite athletes and old grudges. For Galloway, the problems keep piling up and somebody out there believes problems should be dealt with by employing the most permanent of remedies.
An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.
In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered. When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.
And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology