Readers or “fans” of this blog have sent some pretty crazy stuff to my front door over the past few years, including a gram of heroin, a giant bag of feces, an enormous cross-shaped funeral arrangement, and a heavily armed police force. Last week, someone sent me a far less menacing package: an envelope full of cash. Granted, all of the cash turned out to be counterfeit money, but hey it’s the thought that counts, right?
This latest “donation” to Krebs On Security arrived via USPS Priority Mail, just days after I’d written about counterfeit cash sold online by a shadowy figure known only as “MrMouse.” These counterfeits had previously been offered on “dark web” — sites only accessible using special software such as Tor — but I wrote about MrMouse’s funny money because he’d started selling it openly on Reddit, as well as on a half-dozen hacker forums that are quite reachable on the regular Internet.
Sure enough, the package contained the minimum order that MrMouse allows: $500, split up into four fake $100s and two phony $50 bills — all with different serial numbers. I have no idea who sent the bogus bills; perhaps it was MrMouse himself, hoping I’d write a review of his offering. After all, since my story about his service was picked up by multiple media outlets, he’s changed his sales thread on several crime forums to read, “As seen on KrebsOnSecurity, Business Insider and Ars Technica…”
Anyhow, it’s not every day that I get a firsthand look at counterfeit cash, so for better for worse, I decided it would be a shame not to write about it. Since I was preparing to turn the entire package over to the local cops, I was careful to handle the cash sparingly and only with gloves. At first glance, the cash does look and feel like the real thing. Closer inspection, however, reveals that these bills are fakes.
In the video below, I run the fake bills through two basic tests designed to determine the authenticity of U.S. currency: The counterfeit pen test, and ultraviolet light. As we’ll see in the video, the $50 bills shipped in this package sort of failed the pen test (the fake $100 more or less passed). However, both the $50s and $100s completely flopped on the ultraviolet test. It’s too bad more businesses don’t check bills with a cheapo ultraviolet light: the pen test apparently can be defeated easily (by using acid-free paper or by bleaching real bills and using them as a starting point).
Let’s check out the bogus Benjamins. In the image below, we can see a pretty big difference in the watermarks on both bills. The legitimate $100 bill — shown at the bottom of the picture — has a very defined image of Benjamin Franklin as a watermark. In contrast, the fake $100 up top has a much less detailed watermark. Still, without comparing the fake and the real $100 side by side, this deficiency probably would be difficult to spot for the untrained eye.