Paper Money

World's most popular bank note harder to fake

On Oct. 8, as the government faced the seventh day of its shutdown, the United States Treasury launched the redesign of its highest denomination note: the $100 Federal Reserve note.

It’s a note that means a lot of things beyond its face value and has long been a symbol of wealth, success, security and status.

In popular culture it can be referred to as a “Benji” or a Franklin, based on the portrait of Benjamin Franklin on the front. Rap songs abbreviate it as a “hundo” and has a surprisingly historic (although lacking in grammar) definition for its slang name “C note,” writing, “A one-hundred dollar bill. C stands for ‘centum’ the Latin word for 100. The word ‘note’ actually come from the bill it’s self [sic]. Which reads, ‘this note is leagal [sic] tender for all debts, public and private.’ ”

The $100 FRN is the most widely and most often counterfeited U.S. bill around the world. Nearly two-thirds of $100 bills circulate outside the United States and they’re now a lot tougher to fake.

Starting Oct. 8, any commercial bank, savings and loan, or credit union that orders $100 notes from the Federal Reserve will receive this new design. By the time you read this, it’s likely available at your local bank.

The much-delayed note features an array of anti-counterfeiting features. A blue 3-D security ribbon is woven into the paper featuring the image of the Liberty Bell and the numeral 100. The bells change to 100s as they move side to side. Also on the face is a bell in a copper-colored inkwell with color-shifting ink.

These features make it more expensive to print, but infinitely harder to fake. Maintaining the security of the $100 FRN is essential since it represents by far the largest store of value for all circulating U.S. currency.

Its popularity isn’t confined to national borders and it’s widely popular internationally. In countries that have high inflation, it’s a more trusted medium of exchange than local currencies.

Knowing what differentiates a real note from a fake one isn’t just a matter of intellectual interest, it could also keep someone from landing in hot water. It is illegal to spend a counterfeit note as one would spend a genuine one.

Comments made on Oct. 8 by Richard W. Fisher, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, lay out the importance of keeping this note secure: “These anti-counterfeiting measures are incorporated not only to deter bad guys from replicating our money, but also to help protect consumers and business operators from losses. It only takes a few seconds to check the new $100 bill to make sure it’s real.”

It’s a key step to ensure that the United States stays ahead of increasingly sophisticated counterfeiting technology, especially as the $100 plays such a big role in keeping the international economy secure.


Steve Roach

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