August 20, 2014

One can find almost anything for sale online, particularly in some of the darker corners of the Web and on the myriad cybercrime forums. These sites sell everything from stolen credit cards and identities to hot merchandise, but until very recently one illicit good I had never seen for sale on the forums was counterfeit U.S. currency.

Counterfeit Series 1996 $100 bill.

Counterfeit Series 1996 $100 bill.

That changed in the past month with the appearance on several top crime boards of a new fraudster who goes by the hacker alias “MrMouse.” This individual sells counterfeit $20s, $50s and $100s, and claims that his funny money will pass most of the tests that merchants use to tell bogus bills from the real thing.

MrMouse markets his fake funds as “Disney Dollars,” and in addition to blanketing some of the top crime forums with Flash-based ads for his service he has boldly paid for a Reddit stickied post  in the official Disney Market Place.

Judging from images of his bogus bills, the fake $100 is a copy of the Series 1996 version of the note — not the most recent $100 design released by the U.S. Treasury Department in October 2013. Customers who’ve purchased his goods say the $20 notes feel a bit waxy, but that the $50s and $100s are quite good fakes.

MrMouse says his single-ply bills do not have magnetic ink, and so they won’t pass machines designed to look for the presence of this feature. However, this fraudster claims his $100 bill includes most of the other security features that store clerks and cashiers will look for to detect funny money, including the watermark, the pen test, and the security strip.

MrMouse's ads for counterfeit $20s, $50s and $100s now blanket many crime forums.

MrMouse’s ads for counterfeit $20s, $50s and $100s now blanket many crime forums.

In addition, MrMouse says his notes include “microprinting,” tiny lettering that can only be seen under magnification (“USA 100” is repeated within the number 100 in the lower left corner, and “The United States of America” appears as a line in the left lapel of Franklin’s coat). The sourdough vendor also claims his hundreds sport “color-shifting ink,” an advanced feature that gives the money an appearance of changing color when held at different angles.

I checked with the U.S. Secret Service and with counterfeiting experts, none of whom had previously seen serious counterfeit currency marketed and sold on Internet crime forums.

“That’s a first for me, but I guess they can sell anything online these days,” said Jason Kersten, author of The Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master Counterfeiter, a true crime story about a counterfeiter who made millions before his capture by the Secret Service.

Kersten said that outside of so-called “supernote” counterfeits made by criminals within North Korea, it is rare to find vendors advertising features that MrMouse is claiming on his C-notes, including Intaglio (pronounced “in-tal-ee-oh”) and offset printing. Both features help give U.S. currency a certain tactile feel, and it is rare to find that level of quality in fake bills, he said.

Fake money is supposed to leave a black mark with the pen; brown means the bill passes.

Fake money is supposed to leave a black mark with the pen; yellow/gold means the bill passes.

“What you really need to do is feel the money, because a digital image can be doctored in ways that real money cannot,” Kersten said. “With Intaglio, for example, the result is that when the ink dries, you feel a raised surface on the bill.”

The counterfeiting expert said most bogus cash will sell for between 30 and 50 percent of the face value of the notes, with higher-quality counterfeits typically selling toward the upper end of that scale. MrMosue charges 45 percent of the actual dollar amount, with a minimum order of $225 ($500 in bogus Benjamins) – payable in Bitcoins, of course.

According to Kersten, most businesses are ill-prepared to detect counterfeits, beyond simply using a cheap anti-counterfeit pen that checks for the presence of acid in the paper.

“The pen can be fooled if [the counterfeits] are printed on acid-free paper,” Kersten said. “Most businesses are woefully unprepared to spot counterfeits.”

Thankfully, counterfeits are fairly rare; according to a 2010 study (PDF) by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the incidence of counterfeits that cannot be detected with minimal authentication effort is likely on the order of about three in 100,000.

Kersten said he’s not surprised that it’s taken this long for funny money to be offered in a serious and organized fashion on Internet crime forums: While passing counterfeit notes is extremely risky (up to 20 years in prison plus fines for the attempted use of fake currency with the intent to defraud), anyone advertising on multiple forums that they are printing and selling fake currency is going to quickly attract a great deal of attention from federal investigators.

“The Secret Service does not have a sense of humor about this at all,” Kersten said. “They really don’t.”

MrMouse showcases the ultraviolet security strip in his fake $100 bills. The WillyClock bit is just an image watermark.

MrMouse showcases the ultraviolet security strip in his fake $100 bills. The WillyClock bit is just an image watermark.

85 thoughts on “Counterfeit U.S. Cash Floods Crime Forums

  1. Joe

    Why on earth does Reddit allow those sorts of things?

    1. SeymourB

      The same reason Google sells ads for “Flash Player.”

      The submission, payment, and ad display process is highly automated and it takes actual end users contacting them to disrupt the fraudsters operation.

    2. Some Guy

      Reddit has a “self-serve” ad system that allows anyone to quickly create an ad campaign. Review comes later, usually at the behest of the site’s users.

  2. Alex Derbes

    Is it illegal for me to buy these if I immediately mark them as counterfeit upon receipt and obviously never pass them? I’d kinda like to have two as Art

    1. CharonPDX

      I’m of the same mind – I kind of want to have a couple high-quality counterfeits solely to see what they are like. And yes, I’d immediately mark them in Sharpie “EXAMPLE – COUNTERFEIT – NOT FOR USE” on both sides.

    2. Thierry

      Art Hazard Ahead. If “Exit Through the Gift Shop” can be believed, Banksy’s mainly trapped in anonymity because he made what he thought were obviously fake Princess Di bank notes and dropped a few randomly at a festival. Those who picked them up were able to buy beer and other things with them and get change, so Banksy was then a counterfeiter facing 10 years in prison though he got none of the proceeds and had no intent. Just saying.

      1. B_Brodie

        If you were fortunate enough to possess one of those Banksy banknotes, it is worth many many times its face value. I’d definitely give you 100 quid for it…

    3. CJD

      IF you were EXTREMELY careful to document that you were doing this for art (like the post here, maybe an email to a friend, maybe mail yourself a few sealed letters that are dated saying you are conducting this experiment for art or research only and leave them sealed and postmarked in case you get a visit) you MIGHT be able to do it. I think in those cases, what you would likely be looking at is a visit from the SS and a couple week ordeal explaining your true intent, and them eventually keeping the bills and scolding you……thats IF they caught wind and intercepted the bills at some point.

      Without detail, I will confirm, the SS does NOT have a sense of humor or take counterfeiting lightly, even when you have no intent to defraud. I would also suspect there are treasury laws that are the equivalent of receiving stolen property, so just being in possession of a known counterfeit could be jail-able.

      I think you /could/ get away with it safely, but I also think you /could/ get a very angry visit from them. Its cost benefit, if youre willing to deal with the hassle, and can have a good atty on retainer, go for it.

      1. B_Brodie

        You’ll go to jail. It is a felony to knowingly possess or spend counterfeit US currency. The US Secret Service does only two things: prosecute currency / credit card fraud and protect the president.

        There is no sense of humor or artistic license regarding either….

        1. Solar Powered Sea Slug

          OK, so what are you supposed to do if you happen to come across a counterfeit bill? What is the legal direction here if possession is a crime?

          I can say with certainty that when I was about 20 years old and working in a gas station in NJ, someone almost tried to pay us with a really bad fake $20 bill.

          A few years earlier, I received what I thought was a fake $5 bill in some change at a swap meet, but lost track of bill (it could have just been old and mis-colored, watered down? I was to young to know any better).

          So what are you suppose to do with it, if you receive\find one?

          1. CJD

            There is a significant difference in “finding in circulation” and purchasing known counterfeit bills online. The proper action, generally, is to destroy the note or turn it over to your bank or the SS. When I worked at a place that was getting bombarded with fake $5’s, we turned them all over to the bank, they handled all the reporting to the authorities. Coming across a single bill, may or may not interest the SS, so theoretically you probably should call the local office, and if they arent interested, destroy it.

          2. James

            When I was just out of college. I worked for a printing company designing ads. I designed an ad for a client with a dollar bill on it. Within a day I was sitting in the Secret Service offices because I didn’t know you have to blow the bill up like 200 or 300%. I will tell you the Secret Service will detain you quick for anything not done correctly. I didn’t know that there was a document that specifically say’s how you can use currency when printing.

            1. Blake

              You could get it at a coincollecters shop or try searching numismatica forums those will be provided with the right papers

            1. B_Brodie

              “Contact your local police department or United States Secret Service field office. These numbers can be found on the inside front page of your local telephone directory.”

              what’s a local telephone directory ? 😉

              (The Secret Service are actually much more high tech than this link implies)

          3. Michael C

            Bring it to your bank. The bank can send it to the Treasury for you. If it turns out to be a real bill the bank gets the bill back from the Treasury. If its a fake the Treasury will confirm. Either way the bank will let you know…

            1. Escher

              God how I wish Americans would learn the difference between “bring” and “take”. But I give up, convinced that the word “take” no longer exists in this country. Everyone, from news announcers to game show hosts uses “bring” for “take”.

              I can’t bring it anymore!

    4. Andy

      Look at how much humor the USSS saw in the work of J. S. G. Boggs

  3. doug

    Pen tests are close to useless.

    A good strong, neodynmium cylindrical magnet stuck to the side of something is a great way to check US currency. Just hold a bill by the corner and dangle it close to the magnet. The bill will show a slight, but very observable attraction. Easy and fast.

    1. Warez

      Thanks for the tip. Doesn’t have to be cylindrical magnet. Flat magnets from hard disks work very well. Just tested.

  4. Sasparilla

    MrMouse is in big trouble at this point…just a matter of time.

      1. SeymourB

        Only when the criminals live in China, North Korea, Russia, and similar states where international laws see minimal enforcement.

        For the longest time the only way criminals could get in trouble in Russia was to accidentally target Russian citizens (even by accident), but even they can get a pass now.

        1. Eric

          As some have found out, if they are naive enough to take a vacation to some place like the Maldives, they may find that Mother Russia is no longer able to protect them.

        2. Pbbbbt

          LOL, I’m not talking about the desire of a country to enforce the law. I’m talking about getting caught.

    1. Neej

      I don’t necessarily see why that has to be the case.

      Provided a criminal follows certain patterns of behavior when conducting their activity it seems to me it’s highly unlikely or impossible for them to be caught.

      Of course many people seem to screw it up because some of these behaviors include not allowing other people to know to avoid snitches, not committing other criminal offenses where the chances of being caught are higher – for example if this MrMouse character consumes drugs the police may enter his house for this reason and find his illicit currency business.

      1. CJD

        Criminals have to be lucky every single day, LE only has to get lucky once. Generally speaking, its a law of averages, on a long enough timeline, the “house” [read: police] advantage is 100%.

        There are VERY few big time career criminals walking the street having never been convicted of those crimes.

  5. Nolan

    As a note the Reddit sticky post wasn’t paid for, it’s simply because the counterfeiter is the moderator of that subreddit. It looks like he just created it to spam his counterfeit dollars. I’m pretty certain the admins aren’t ok with this and will probably remove that sub when they hear of this article.

  6. Craig

    How come the photo caption says “a series 1996 $100 bill,” but the bill pictured in the photo says “series 2006?”

    1. BrianKrebs Post author

      The logic of the Treasury’s naming conventions eludes me, as I am far from a currency expert. But my understanding is that the Series 2006A is basically the same design as the 100 note that was first issued in 1996, and the experts I spoke with kept referring to the bills in the images I shared with them as 96 notes.

      1. Charles Bahne

        I believe the “Series” refers to the two signatures that appear on the bill — Treasurer of the U.S. and Secretary of the Treasury. When the signatures change, then the Series also changes, to the current year. But (for example) they will continue to issue Series 2013 bills in subsequent years, until new officials are appointed to those posts.


    I am sure you can find counterfeit currency using hidden services on the TOR browser. I mean you can find just about everything else there.

  8. marscoin

    this would not have happened with Bitcoin or any cryptocurrency for that matter.

  9. Anonymous

    Mr Mouse has already made his first big mistake by showing his thumb on one of the pictures. So the Feds and S.Service now know they are looking for a white man. These agencies like to profile, personally, I’d go on to say that due to his neatly cuts nails and no sign of vitamin deficiency around the nail (though not sure what the dark line is), that he’s most likely middle class.

    Oh and it strikes me that it’s the nail of a grown man, 20-40 range. If he’d called himself Mini Mouse and used tweezers it would have kept some of the guess work there.

    So 316 million American suspects became,
    77.7% white = 245 million. 49.2% male = 120 million. 23.3% under 18 and 14.1% over 65, excluded = 75 million (will be much lower with 40-65s excluded).

    etc… etc…

    Any other visual clues in those photos he uploaded, Brian?

    1. theadder

      Err, why are you assuming he’s American? I’d bet my house that he isn’t.

      1. BrianKrebs Post author

        Not sure if it’s indicative of where MrMouse is at, but it is interesting that this service only ships domestically within the US.

    2. Pbbbbt

      LOL you don’t even know that that’s *his* thumb.

    3. Menachem wuz hear

      Maybe it’s a thumb from one of her victims.

  10. mbi

    I wonder if he has a North Korean connection? They’d sell anything to get at the USA.

    1. MEP

      You can buy magnetic ink for any inkjet printer. It’s used for printing checks. I doubt it’s the same magnetic ink used in currency though.

    2. CJD

      To what end? The mag ink isnt the hard part, the raised printing and the paper are the problems. Scan a $100 at home, and print it on an inkjet (not a laser), and compare the feel. You can close your eyes and pick the fake every time.

      If Mr Mouse has mastered these two issues, then he will either be set for life soon and living somewhere else, or, more likely, HE isnt printing them, he is the equivalent of a midlevel coke dealer, getting the product from a skilled forger outside the US.

      1. FraudeFighter

        I find it most likely that Mr. Mouse is, in fact, distributing SuperNotes produced by a foreign government. He may not know this. It could be that he is the third or fourth link in a chain form the producer of the bill to the distributor of the bill. This may also explain his need to charge 45% on the – since presumably every link in the chain is collecting a share along the way.
        There is really only one way to produce Intaglio, and that is on heavy (5+ ton) presses. This pretty much excludes most individuals and organizations, except for governmental. Several governments are documented as having produced supernotes. Iraq, Russia, North Korea and Iran, to name the most obvious. Russia distributed (distributes?) through Bulgarian and Czech organized crime families. North Korea previously distributed through Chinese Trading companies. Not sure what Saddam Husein’s distribution was, but likely involved exchanges of oil dollars – ditto for Iran.
        True counterfeit detection requires an advanced forensic examination. This can be achieved with some over-the-counter devices – but buyer beware! Not all devices are the same, and many only look at the more obvious physical attributes……

  11. Anon

    Secret Service, and the FED dont want others moving in on their territory.

  12. alpha02

    Mr. Mouse is one of my partners. I know where he is from, but you guys will have to figure it out by yourself 😉

  13. JCitizen

    No sense of humor is right! I’ve read on DOD forums, that if the Secret Service deems a major counterfeiter as a threat to national security, they don’t mind taking unilateral military action against them; if practical. The collapse of the dollar can be easily construed as a national security matter; which was precisely why the service was formed in the first place on .July 5, 1865.

      1. JCitizen

        One the other hand, you could say we weren’t innocent of doing this to other countries.

        “Counterfeiting isn’t new in Iraq. In the early 1990s, American agents, reportedly in cooperation with regional allies, flooded Iraq with fake currency in an attempt to put pressure on the then-dictator Saddam Hussein, who was dealing with massive inflation and the rapid devaluing of Iraqi currency after the disastrous invasion of Kuwait.”

  14. CoolAC

    what a coincidence I got offered some counterfeit bills a couple weeks ago but they were ones people print up on their home computers.

    I wonder if Brian ever heard about people doing this? It seems to be pretty popular and easy. I’m not sure if you need a certain program or printer, but it might be common.

    Probably not as sophisticated or real looking as what they sell on those sites, I assume, but they crumple them up to make them look more real and apparently it works well.

    I never had the balls to try it though, I figure with my luck I’d get caught…lol

    1. Eric

      There was an episode of “American Greed” about a group in California that was counterfeiting 100$ bills using inkjet printers. As counterfeits go, I guess they weren’t bad, but they eventually did get caught.

        1. Eric

          There was a bit more to it than that – they had a way to fake the watermark, and they had a way to make sure that the yellow pens don’t give them away.

          But they were in fact using inkjet on some sort of special paper.

          At the end of the day, if people accept your bills, then your counterfeits are good enough.

  15. NewsJunkieEd

    I have no insider information about them but I suspect that you don’t want to piss off the Secret Service. They take counterfeiting very seriously, to include simple possession. I doubt it will take long to roll these folks up and when they do I think you will find that purchases by bitcoin are not as untraceable as folks think they are.

  16. Krabs

    Do you charge crooks for these press releases? If not, you should because articles like these probably drive them so much business.

    This isn’t really news either. They are south american replicas being sold domestically. I guess since they are online now people make a big fuss out of it. Calling them “supernotes” is quite a stretch. Sure, they are probably better than laser printed but certainly not supernotes (which eludes to being undetectable by the naked eye).

    Pretty crumby hustle if you ask me. You are only doubling your money, must do a F2F transaction, and risk a ton of federal time for these. This is a kids con.

    1. BrianKrebs Post author

      Ah, yes, the old “hey it’s already on the darknets so everyone should already know about it” line of thinking. Spoken like someone who spends all of their time on the darknets. You must be so proud!

      The point of the story was that this is starting to leak onto the mainstream internet, and on crime forums, and out of these more obscure places that can only be accessed via Tor.

      1. Kyle

        I think what he was saying was it brings knowledge, not subtracts from it. However, not all things from the darknet are bad. Malware can be an interesting research tool, not simply for malice and fraud. While crime isn’t free, information is. There are of course, several things I would never wanna bring from the darknet into the clearweb. However, besides all of this, honestly, I see nothing wrong with your article, actually it was very interesting to read.

      2. Kyle

        sorry for the extra post, but forgot to add something: some of us darkweb explorers aren’t blackhat, some just like reading posts. Granted, most of the stuff there in SO-CALLED hacking forums are nonsensical script kiddy stuff.

        But anyway, there will be 2 main things I’d never bring into the clearweb from the darknet: child porn and animal cruelty. Well 3 things, also assassination. Those are the main ones. The other one is drugs.

        On the other hand, there are also copies of American Continental-Congress-era documents you can view, and news on software and infosec. That’s what I do, not the blackhat stuff. I just don’t want you to think that all darknet people are bad. Even besides darknet but into just illegal but clearweb sites, even Xylitol [used to] contribute on, and does on other, forums like those, as do I. There’s a lot of evil things on both the clearweb AND the darkweb. I don’t wanna be the gateway to the evil stuff, FOR people, but info is info, as long as it’s not breaking the law to discuss. Spending time in the darkweb doesn’t mean all who do that, will end up like the people on the carding forums. Some just like reading posts.

        Anyway, again, great article, I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be offensive, I just…..not all of people on the darkweb are cybercriminals or criminals in general. sorry.

  17. S scott

    Mr Mouse wouldn’t happen to be associated with ISIL in Iraq by any chance? Flooding the market with fake currency at this time seems to be way too co-incidental to me.

  18. Mr. Kazan

    Here in Romania, counterfeiters used to sell 100 perfect and undetectable $5 bills for $200.

    They sold more than 4,000,000 before they realized it was costing them $6.20 to make each bill.

    1. george

      Interesting. How did they finance their operation for so long ?

  19. darkhorse

    willy.clock is a colombian everybody who knows anything about anything already knows that, he basically runs some sort of cult or mafia and likes to employ only para military, good luck on cracking this nut! MrMouse is just a retailer one of about 100, MrMouse is just the first person to spread the product online in clearnet but it was already in the deepweb on basically every deep market since forever. You are doing him a favor giving him free advertising you could have asked him for some payment at least in bitcoins unless you already did?

  20. FARO

    I think I saw a documentary on Jason Kersten. Interesting person. Looks like he has turned his life around from the rough streets of Chicago. Think I will pass on his book.

  21. Anonymous

    “They sold more than 4.000.000 before they realized it was costing them $6.20 to make each bill”

  22. Bob

    The L1 on the $50 is a dead giveaway that it’s fake.

  23. Edward

    Has anyone actually verified that notes in MrMouse photos are actually counterfeit? It’s possible this could be a scam the scammer operation.

  24. Steve

    You can buy 100 $100 bills on flimsy paper for $1 in the Russian Market in Phnom Penh. They wouldn’t fool anyone used to handling USD but for the rest of the population they certainly could.

  25. eCurmudgeon

    The real question is why the United States is even printing $100s and $50s at all.

    A recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Less Cash, Less Crime: Evidence from the Electronic Benefit Transfer Program” makes a compelling argument against them:

    It has been long recognized that cash plays a critical role in fueling street crime due to its liquidity and transactional anonymity. In poor neighborhoods where street offenses are concentrated, a significant source of circulating cash stems from public assistance or welfare payments. In the 1990s, the Federal government mandated individual states to convert the delivery of their welfare benefits from paper checks to an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system, whereby recipients received and expended their funds through debit cards. In this paper, we examine whether the reduction in the circulation of cash on the streets associated with EBT implementation had an effect on crime. To address this question, we exploit the variation in the timing of the EBT implementation across Missouri counties. Our results indicate that the EBT program had a negative and significant effect on the overall crime rate as well as burglary, assault, and larceny. According to our point estimates, the overall crime rate decreased by 9.8 percent in response to the EBT program. We also find a negative effect on arrests, especially those associated with non-drug offenses. EBT implementation had no effect on rape, a crime that is unlikely to be motivated by the acquisition of cash. Interestingly, the significant drop in crime in the United States over several decades has coincided with a period of steady decline in the proportion of financial transactions involving cash. In that sense, our findings serve as a fresh contribution to the important debate surrounding the factors underpinning the great American crime decline.

    1. Eric

      The ATM machines where I go routinely give out 50 or 100$ bills if you ask for a withdrawal that is large enough.

      1. jack

        How big should be the withdrawal? I haven’t seen ATMs releasing anything else than 20s and usually the withdrawal limit is less than $300, but again that doesn’t mean it cannot be true what are you saying.

        1. CW

          It often depends in which city you are in. Where I live, the ATMs almost always spit out $20 bills, even for a relatively large withdrawal ($300-400).

          But if you go to some place like Las Vegas, a withdrawal will often give you $100 bills. Cash is king in Vegas, and $100 bills may be the preferred currency there, at least for casinos.

  26. KFritz

    If a large batch of these bills land in the laps of some major Russian non-virtual criminal, Mr. Mouse will meet some people who make the Secret Service look like Mr. Rogers.

  27. Chris

    As a banker with 20 yrs of experience with counterfeit currency, these don’t appear to be all that great. Unless you use US Treasury-issued intaglio printing plates, the poor quality of image and detail is a dead giveaway. The quality of the ink itself and the paper is usually not great either. Most counterfeits don’t get past the average bank teller, but they oftentimes fool a minimum wage c-store or fast food clerk. The “detector” pens are utterly worthless—too easy to fool them, even accidentally. While most folks who end up holding a counterfeit are innocent victims, it still isn’t wise to hang onto one for any reason.

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