14 January 2019 - Having been in the banknote industry for more than a decade, a helicopter view of our progress as an industry shows that collectively, our industry has continued to deliver improved banknote products in terms of counterfeit resistance and durability. 

The data in Australia shows that in 2017-18, around A$1.75 million in counterfeit banknotes was passed while electronic financial fraud was in the order of A$650 million, so by that measure cash is doing its part to protect the Australian public.  Yet for the people that are victims of a counterfeit note, there’s no joy in these figures. 

In the provision of a secure, reliable currency supply for the nations of the world, we have as an industry aspired to lift public confidence in a nation’s currency through engaging designs, innovative security features, and precision high security printing. In delivering the current Australian series for example, Note Printing Australia is producing banknotes that are a huge visual leap forward from the previous series due to the large top-to-bottom window, security features that beautifully portray Australian native fauna, and colour treatments across the entire banknote that are rich and bold. 

Given these efforts, I am greatly frustrated when in conversations with taxi drivers, hotel staff, and other service suppliers, I learn that most people become victims of counterfeiting because they don’t look at the notes they’re receiving.  Fraudsters look for those moments of high pressure, semi-darkness, distraction, and subterfuge to con their victims into unwittingly accepting a counterfeit note, which is why taxi services, bars and nightclubs, convenience stores and similar locations are so often targeted.  

There appears to be two types of counterfeiter – the artist and the businessman. The artist is in it for the challenge of wanting to replicate a note perfectly, regardless of how long it takes. There was a case a few years ago where a forger in the Americas admitted it was taking him 22 hours per note!  The businessman is different.  These people are a threat because they are trying to establish efficient, volume-driven operations. 

The counterfeits these volume operations produce are usually very poor quality and easy to spot – yet in a polymer banknote market, without a visual check even counterfeits made of paper can be passed. In being part of an industry that strives to produce some of the most visually engaging printed products in the world, a simple message I like to convey to anyone I meet is simply to become familiar with the currency especially the higher denominations, pick two favourite features and view both each time you receive a note.  In darker settings, have a small light readily available to make a quick examination. 

If every person makes a quick but purposeful inspection of their banknotes during a transaction, counterfeit rates can be driven even lower. Banknotes are beautiful to look at and we’ve designed them to give the public a visual feast.  With the goal of helping protect as many people as possible, please pass on this simple advice to anyone who’ll listen!


Malcolm McDowell is a Director on the Board of the International Currency Association.