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Cashing in on Counterfeit Euro Bills

Police across Europe think forgers will try to circulate fake euro bills in the upcoming weeks. That's why German police have designed a computer game to teach people how to recognize forgeries.

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Is it real or is it counterfeit?

300 million Europeans got a new currency on January 1, 2002: the euro.

Eight denominations of euro coins and seven denominations of euro bills worth a total of 664 billion euro ($600 billion) have gone into circulation.

And since many people in Europe are hardly able to distinguish fake euro bills from real ones, police fear money forgers might take the opportunity to cash in on the euro.

Balkan forger gangs

The European police agency Europol thinks money forgers from Balkan countries could be busy mass producing fake euro banknotes. Willy Bruggemann, deputy head of Europol told Reuters news agency they could be set to channel fake euro notes into the twelve countries making up the euro zone.

"It's a real risk. We have some signals that something is happening. It is really that region which is vulnerable," Bruggemann said.

Even though they are not officially part and parcel of the common European currency project, some Balkan countries will also introduce the euro. From January first, the euro will replace the deutschmark as legal tender in Kosovo. In Macedonia, the euro will most likely be used as an unofficial dual currency.

But many people in the Balkans might not be as well informed about how to detect counterfeit euro bills as people in the twelve official euro-zone countries.

Europol's Willy Bruggeman says criminals with counterfeiting skills in places like Kosovo and Macedonia could start circulating fake 50 and 100 euro bills in the Balkans. He thinks the forgers might try to buy luxury goods with the freshly forged banknotes.

Special precautions in Germany and Austria

Police in Germany and Austria in particular are on the lookout for fake euro notes. They think forgers might try to smuggle counterfeit money across their borders with poor, non-EU countries to the east.

Arndt Rung is a forgery expert with Baden Würrtemberg state police. He believes the first forgeries have already been printed: "I expect a few counterfeit Euro notes will turn up during the course of next year. "

"The Funny Money Adviser"

To help people prepare for the new currency, German police have introduced a special internet website with an interactive computer game. In "The Funny Money Adviser", players have to recognize four differences between real euro notes and forgeries.

"The game is hard even for a forgery expert like myself," says Arndt Rung. "Sometimes you can only make it the next level with the help of your partner or your colleagues."

Everything you need to know

The computer game is the best training available for cashiers in stores and supermarkets. They will have to be able to distinguish a forgery from the original within seconds.

Tilmann Kübler is in charge of the "crime watch" police website that includes "The Funny Money Advisor". It gets some 80 thousand hits each month.

"We have had lots of positive feedback about 'The Funny Money Advisor'", Kübler explains. "Some people say it's too difficult, but at least they're showing interest in it."

Euro safety features

The award winning internet site offers a lot more information about forgeries than just the "Funny Money" game.

Surfers can learn about a number of security features of the new notes. Euro bills contain watermarks, security threads and shifting holograms among their depictions of architecture across the ages. They even have hidden markings that can only be recognized by a handful of experts.

The police forgery experts hope that these added security features will lead to a decline in counterfeiting. But they say it still pays to know what the new money looks like.

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