Cash Security: a Prime Example of the Conversion of Mafia Circles

The fight against counterfeiting of banknotes is not only a matter of technology implemented in banknotes. Indeed, mafia circles had to adapt and to create banknotes that could deceive, it became necessary for them to have access to the same raw materials as the manufacturers. This is why professionals of the cash printing industry also have to secure the entire supply chain up to the delivery of the finished product.

A fake $ 100 bill was found in a South Korean bank almost a year ago. The banknote was nearly perfect, for which it was called a “supernote”. After careful study, experts concluded that the bill is anything but a simple fake: “You need facilities worth some $100 million to produce counterfeit bills of this quality”, said Yi Ho-Joong, head of KEB Hana Bank’s anti-counterfeit centre.

Mr Yi is right. Modern banknotes are literally stuffed with security features and creating a really good fake is no easier than faking a Da Vinci painting. In addition to printing, it is necessary to forge relationships with accredited manufacturers of paper, ink, varnishes, holograms and other elements, not to mention an understanding of the technology and personnel training. Modern production of banknotes is not a workshop, but a real plant.

Criminals understand this best of all. Yet, they do not give up and invent new ways to enrich themselves illegally. Recently, a group of people in Liberia, wasting no time, decided to steal a batch of banknotes worth $ 60 million. The notes were printed abroad and sent from the port of the country’s capital, Monrovia, to the Central Bank, but the recipient was never reached.

Cash-in-transit heists are indeed a problem in some regions, and this is why banks and all who deals with cash have to hire security companies to ensure safe transportation. You may think of a bunch of armed weightlifters and an armoured van, but in reality, modern cash safety solutions are not only brutal force but also intelligent high-tech solutions. Karsten Kemna, Regional Strategic Sales & Marketing Director, Asia Pacific at Wincor Nixdorf, shows how this translates in practice: “Full range of intelligent software allows banks and retailers to manage and optimize the supply-chain of cash process across their branches and stores. This software includes cash inventory forecasts and optimisation, cash order management, track and trace and management reporting.”

In addition to simple theft of bills, criminals can seize up “ingredients” of the banknote production. Indeed, it is much easier to print a batch of decent-looking fakes if you have suitable paper or a can full of special ink.

Now, those who are directly responsible for the banknote security, come into play. These are security printers and their efforts are aimed not only at introducing new security features, but also at comprehensive protection of the entire production process. To do this, they introduce additional security measures at their enterprise and obtain certificates that ensure compliance of the supply chain with the necessary standards.

In this respect, the keys are certificates of the European Central Bank and ISO (ISO 14298 for security printing management, ISO 37001 for anti-bribery control, ISO 9001 and 14001 for organisation and quality management, etc.). They encompass control of product safety, production processes, means of production, production premises, internal and external communication, and supply. It’s not easy to receive these certifications. During the audit, virtually every nook and cranny of the production premises is checked, and the process itself takes several months, during which many meetings with auditors take place.

Main production processes in which the inspectors take an interest are printing, finishing and further handling of the printed banknotes. “Today, printing a banknote is a multi-step process, you can have as much as 8 or 9 different processes, says Thomas Savare, Head of French security printer Oberthur Fiduciaire, and many different machines that come into play for producing banknotes, which has made the entire process all the more complicated… We have to do that within an environment that is highly industrial because we’re supplying billions of individuals with products that are numbered and personalized”.

Obviously, each process is critical to obtain the desired result. That is why one of the main requirements of auditors is to have as many production processes launched as possible when they come to see the production facility.

If the audit was successful, the security printer is granted with the certificate. The paper states that the company has passed inspection and confirms compliance with safety standards.

Now compare the work of a banknote printing company with the work of counterfeiters. Here, for example, Arthur Williams, one of the top counterfeiters of our time. He used rubber stamps and car paint, took paper from phone books for greater persuasiveness, and even drew micro-prints on the fake bills by hand. Impressive effort! However, even this was not enough and eventually Williams was caught.

In general, cash flow protection is a complex process. Every detail is important, from printing banknotes to transporting them to banks, and manufacturers, cash in transit companies and banks all over the world agree. The issue of cash security will remain relevant for a very long time, because there is no complete alternative to paper money yet, and statistics from around the world confirms that cash is king.


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