LIMA, Peru – The technique and skill of Peru’s U.S. dollar counterfeiters astonishes experts.
Counterfeiters methodically replicate the delicate security fibers used in U.S. bills, which are embedded using craft ink that resembles the fiduciary ink used in genuine currency.
“[These bills] receive a delicate finish that gives them the roughness and texture needed,” Peruvian National Police (PNP) Col. Segundo Portocarrero Quintana said. “The fake security fibers and the denomination stick to them to give them an authentic appearance.”
After the printing process, the bills receive a thorough finish like a work of art, as they are all handmade, especially the denomination, Portocarrero Quintana said.
From 2009 to September 2013, about 54 million counterfeit bills, mostly US$100 bills, totaling nearly US$103 million have been seized, according to the PNP’s Fraud Division.
Peru is the leading manufacturing center of counterfeit bills in the world, followed by Colombia, Mexico and Jordan, because of the Andean nation’s cheap labor and easy access to chemical inputs, according to Portocarrero Quintana.
Each fake bill costs about $20 soles (US$7) to produce, according to the PNP.
For every counterfeit US$100 bill, organized crime earns US$10. Once the counterfeit currency arrives in destination markets like the United States or the European Union, the profit goes up to US$25 because the fake money worth more, thus becoming a multimillion-dollar business, according to Jorge Gonzáles Izquierdo, a monetary policy economist.
“The circulation of excess bills or coins generates inflation, affecting U.S. monetary policy,” he said.
However, this does not only impact the U.S. economy.
“We are all victims of this criminal network,” González Izquierdo added. “Imagine receiving a fake US$100 bill. We are the ones who lose. It affects our pocketbooks.”
It’s estimated that organized crime groups in Peru have inserted US$15 million in counterfeit money into the U.S. market, according to González Izquierdo.
Smuggling fake currency out of the country closely resembles the movement of drugs.
Suitcases with double bottoms, crafts, and even the swallowing of latex capsules containing bills are used to send counterfeit money abroad.
“Five or six bills can fit into a capsule,” Portocarrero Quintana said. “Runners are able to consume about 70 capsules for each trip, so it’s like they are carrying US$300,000 in counterfeit money.”
They go through Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela to reach the U.S., according to the PNP Bureau of Criminal Investigation (DIRINCRI).
Organized crime groups also use Argentina, Venezuela and Mexico to send counterfeit currency to the European Union.
The U.S. Secret Service has been working closely with agents of the DIRINCRI Fraud Investigation Division since 2011 to dismantle these groups.
This collaborative effort is based on crossing information and identifying members of these criminal networks through accessing databanks containing criminal records, which helps identify suspects.
Through this collaboration, the PNP has dismantled nine bands of counterfeiters since 2011, including the one led by Wilfredo Cobos de la Cruz, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for running a fake currency ring with his brothers living in France, Spain and Italy.
Cobos de la Cruz was arrested on April 17, but his brothers responsible for circulating the counterfeit bills abroad remain at large.
On Sept. 20, the PNP arrested Ángel Sarmiento Quispe, the latest alleged ringleader of the largest organization of money counterfeiters in Lima.
Sarmiento Quispe allegedly was caught with about US$190,000 in counterfeit money, which would have been taken to Ecuador, Argentina, and the United States.
Sarmiento Quispe, 22, is facing between five and 12 years in prison if convicted.
How do you recognize a fake U.S. dollar?
To avoid receiving a counterfeit bill, it’s essential to look closely at it, Portocarrero Quintana said.
“You shouldn’t only go by the thread and security fibers on the bill,” he said. “You need to look at the printing quality. Even though it is almost perfect in fake money, there is always something wrong, like the watermark, which should be visible on both sides of the bill.”
Counterfeiters use sheets of office paper, so you need to feel the bill carefully. Real bills are “rough,” but counterfeit ones have an “oily” texture, he added.