Paper Money

New Zealand has a problem with the defacing of its notes

While this $100 note of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand is in pristine form, bank officials are combatting the defacing of the notes because of an urban myth.

Image courtesy of Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

The fact that the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act of 1989 specifically outlaws willfully defacing, disfiguring, or mutilating any bank note, does not seem to have deterred a rising number of people from doing exactly that.

The reason, said the national news service Newshub on Dec. 18, was that New Zealanders are being tricked into illegally defacing them by rubbing them with coins as if they were a lottery ticket. The problem for now is concentrated in the city of Christchurch, where an urban myth is leading locals to accuse others of using counterfeit money.

The bank was compelled to issue a statement in which a spokesman explained, “People are being told that you can tell a fake banknote by scraping it with a coin, and if the printing comes off revealing the plastic then it’s a fake. This is completely false, not one of our recommended ways to check a banknote, and actually illegal defacement.”

New Zealand’s five currency denominations, from $5 to $100, are all printed on polymer. Spokesperson Peter Northcote admitted that if polymer notes are folded they will sometimes lose some of their printing. Otherwise, he said, the bogus fake test highlights the security strengths of polymer.

He also made use of the chance for free publicity and public education. For instance, he said that a genuine polymer note would not tear at the edge, but fakes are usually made from paper, and will. They also feel different to the touch. He also advised that instead of using a coin, proper checks include looking for sharp printing, the embossed window, and the sparkling bird.

Damaged notes are pulled from circulation as they are processed by cash handlers. Only about four of every million New Zealand bank notes are fake.

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