Explosion in counterfeit bills since the beginning of this year

  • The National Bank has recorded 21,580 counterfeit bills over the first half of 2013.
  • It’s almost as many as the 22,443 that were recorded over all of 2012.
  • The 50 EUR bills are the most counterfeited.
  • The issue at hand: a flood of small traffickers that move foreign counterfeit products in Belgium.

Counterfeiting activity has reached record heights. According to the National Bank’s latest numbers, the Belgian financial authorities have intercepted 21,580 counterfeit bills between January and June. That’s almost as many as the 22,433 counterfeit bank notes documented all of last year. BNB reported 21,918 bills in 2011. One has to go back to 2010, a record year, to find a higher number  -  43,675. This is the number of notes detected by the National Bank machines, which removed the bills from circulation when they arrived at BNB, along with the specimens intercepted by banks and individuals.

The 50 EUR bills are the most counterfeited (15,131 over six months), followed by 20 EUR bills (4,549). The most significant increase is that of counterfeit 500 EUR bills. Only 150 cases were identified last year, but during the first six months of 2013, 870 bills were found. These numbers are all the more surprising since on a global level numbers are not rising. Over the first six months of this year, police authorities around the world found 317,000 counterfeit Euro bills. That is comparable to the 2012 level of 531,000 counterfeit bills.

This problem seems to be more serious in Belgium. “As a matter of fact, we have observed an increase,” acknowledges Philippe Quintin, director of the National Bank banknote circulation department. “I don’t think we have reached an extraordinary level. We’re seeing the same levels as in 2010.” Philippe Quintin sees a new surge of activity in the networks that move counterfeit bills in Belgium.

This is confirmed by the Federal Police. “Most professional quality counterfeit bills are not made in Belgium. They are produced in Italy and Bulgaria,” states an agent specialized in this type of traffic. “This represents three quarters of the bills. One quarter are produced here in Belgium, but they are of lesser quality and sometimes are even primitive.”

Police believe the sharp increase is due to importers. “This is based on organized crime that has been in business a long time. The increase we’re seeing right now is because of the capacities of the criminal networks that import these bills into Belgium.” Counterfeit bills are brought into Belgium in small quantities, and then people pass small bills to the most vulnerable population. “They avoid major stores or box stores that have detectors in favor of small businesses,” continues our police source.

The police are not worried about the present increase. “These are networks that are temporarily more effective with maybe a few more small traffickers. We’re not reaching astronomical levels.” It’s true that we’re talking about 21,580 counterfeit bills among the 15.8 million real bank notes circulating in Belgium.

However, the police are noticing that the problem has widened with the arrival of the Euro. “Counterfeiters usually traffic in widely used currency. As such, the Belgian Franc enjoyed a measure of protection,” continues our source. This also implies that the quality of counterfeit currency has improved, since international networks have better equipment than during the time of the Belgian Franc.

In spite of the recorded increases during the first few months of this year, the police have not rounded up any big fish, nor dismantled any widespread networks.  “For now we have only questioned mid-level operatives. These were people who were arrested as they were ready to pass bills.” But these little dragnets aren’t likely to show significantly in the numbers since counterfeiters spread small amounts around in order to avoid large arrests.

Finally, more caution is needed for bills than coins. The National Bank only found 1,862 counterfeit coins during the first six months this year. That’s quite far from the 2012 numbers, when 9,336 coins were taken out of circulation – almost exclusively 2 EUR coins.

BERNARD DEMONTY

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