PhotoThis story’s all about the Benjamins: the U.S. $100 bill is changing again. On Oct. 8, the Federal Reserve shipped its first batch of the new currency (known as Benjamins) to banks across America.

Ben Franklin’s face will look the same as always, only surrounded by new (and hopefully hard-to-counterfeit) security features, including Liberty Bells printed in color-changing ink and hologram-bedecked ribbons woven into the paper itself. Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell said the new security features should make the $100 bill “easier to authenticate, but harder to replicate.”

Counterfeiting paper money has always been more complicated than merely printing pages on a photocopier. The “paper” US currency’s printed on is actually more like a cottony fabric, woven from fibers with very specific colors and textures (look at a dollar bill through a strong magnifying glass; you’ll see what we’re talking about). This cloth-like paper is made only by Crane & Company in a (presumably heavily guarded) facility somewhere in Massachusetts.

In the U.S., you’ll occasionally find relatively small-scale counterfeiters who bleach authentic one- and five-dollar bills and then reprint the cottony dollar paper in higher denominations; the $20 bill is the most common counterfeit denomination in America. But counterfeit hundreds are the most common fake U.S. currency found overseas, and the Benjamin’s new security features are likely intended to thwart foreign more than domestic counterfeiters.

Top counterfeiter: Peru 

This year, Peru won the dubious honor of becoming the world’s top source of counterfeit U.S. cash. But for the majority of the time since the fall of the Soviet Union (and end of Soviet subsidies to various Communist countries throughout the world), the main foreign source of fake U.S. money has been North Korea, long suspected to be the world’s primary producer of the so-called “superdollar” or “supernote”—a counterfeit U.S. $100 bill of such high quality that its fake status can only be detected by sophisticated forensic analysis.

Superdollars are even printed on counterfeit paper which, to ordinary human senses, looks and feels just like genuine Crane and Company currency paper, and printed in authentic-looking color-shifting ink.

The security features in the new improved circa-2013 Benjamins, with their hologram ribbons and color-shifting Liberty Bells, will hopefully thwart whoever’s behind the superdollar and other problematic high-quality counterfeits—at least for the time being.


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