[Dave Birch] Police investigating a drugs ring in Spain busted a counterfeiting operation. The counterfeiters were, naturally, producing their own versions of the drug smugglers' best friend, the 500 euro note.
Spanish police have seized fake banknotes worth eight million euros (£7 million) in the biggest single haul of counterfeit money ever recorded in Europe.[From Spanish police seize largest haul of forged banknotes in European history - Telegraph]
The article goes on to say that Spainiards call the 500 euro notes "bin Ladens" because, like the world's most wanted man, everyone knows what they look like, but no-one has ever seen them. The newspaper points out that the notes are frequently used in "black money" transactions and it is thought that Spain has more in circulation than anywhere else in the Eurozone. Frequently? I'd be curious to hear from anyone who has ever used one in a legitimate transaction! The haul, incidentally, easily beat the previous record set only a few months ago.
Italian police conducted an early- morning dragnet across the country to round up more than 100 people in what they described as the largest bust of a euro counterfeiting ring ever... Four laboratories for printing fake euro bills and minting phony coins were discovered, and 1.2 million euros ($1.6 million) was sequestered during the investigation[From costa confidential: largest bust of a euro counterfeiting ring ever. Euros were tracked out of Italy to Spain]
It's not surprising that the records are falling, because the counterfeiting of euro notes is steadily and, it appears, inexorably increasing.
The number of seized counterfeit euro notes jumped by 17 percent in the first six months of 2009, the European Central Bank said on Monday, marking two years of constant increases. In January the central bank had reported a six-month increase of 13 percent while stressing that the scale of counterfeiting remained small, a comment it did not repeat this time.
Oddly, given these newspaper stories of police raids, fraud factories and international fake note smuggling, the ECB says that no "new" sources of counterfeits were discovered.
The ECB said however that the fake notes seized in 2009 had the same origin as previously discovered notes, meaning that no new sources of counterfeit money had been found.[From Fake euro seizures climb by 17 pct: ECB — EUbusiness.com - business, legal and economic news and information from the European Union]
So who cares if there's some counterfeit cash out there? Well, by itself it has an almost undetectable impact on the money supply (especially compared to the current "quantitative easing") but it does provide a kind of venture capital for the bad guys. Criminals use the counterfeit money for all sorts of things. One gang was found with a large stock of cannabis for distribution, but
Some of the forged money was used to buy more than 16,000 € worth of jamones in Guijelo, (prized ham from the Iberian pigs, traditionally fed on acorns for their flavour) in Salamanca province.[From Spanish Police uncover 'ham-loving' counterfeit criminals]
Well, even counterfeiters have to eat.
Counterfeiting is not, of course, a euro-specific issue. It's going on all over the place.
The group was formed following the discovery of a counterfeit note ring operating out of a nationalised bank, where 75,000 fake notes were discovered with a face value of Rs.4.02 crore ($1 million).[From Finextra: Indian counterfeit currency concerns spell bonanza for branch automation vendors]
However, counterfeiting in euros is a more rewarding enterprise than counterfeiting in some other currencies because of the high value of euro notes. Which reminds me. It seems bizarre that the European Central Bank encourages drug smuggling, money laundering and corruption by promulgating €500 notes, while at the same time payment services providers are snowed under with paperwork and overheads. A friend of mine told me that he recently went to get a couple of hundred euros from a high street outlet with his debit card and was required to produce his driving licence. He was uncomfortable with his personal details being copied out onto a form but, being English, didn't complain. Now there's one more place his identity can be stolen from, and for what?
These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]