White-Collar Crime - Forgery And Counterfeiting
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As technology advances, forgers are able to use sophisticated computers, scanners (a machine that "reads" a document and transfers it to computer coding), and laser printers to make copies of more and more documents, including counterfeit checks, identification badges, driver's licenses, even dollar bills (though the bills may not have the right feel, they can be inserted into a stack of currency and an overworked bank teller may not catch the forgery).
The manufacturing of counterfeit United States currency or altering of genuine currency to increase its value is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and imprisonment of up to 15 years, or both. Possession of counterfeit U.S. currency is also a crime, punishable by a fine of up to $15,000, or imprisonment of up to 15 years, or both. Counterfeiting is not limited to paper money. The illegal manufacturing of a coin in any denomination above five cents is subject to the same penalties as counterfeiting paper currency, and increasing the numismatic value of a coin is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, or imprisonment of up to five years, or both. The level of counterfeit bills in circulation worldwide is estimated to be less than 0.02 percent of all bills, about two counterfeit bills for every 10,000 genuine bills.
In response to the growing use of computer-generated counterfeit money, the U.S. Department of the Treasury redesigned the $50 and $100 bills in the 1990s. Noting that the $20 bill was the one most counterfeited, the Department of the Treasury introduced new $5, $10, and $20 dollar bills between 1998 and 2000. These bills contain a watermark making them harder to accurately copy. Another change in currency design was introduced in October 2003, a new $20 dollar bill with shades of green, peach, and blue colors in the background. A blue eagle and metallic green eagle and shield have also been added to the bill's design. In 2004 and 2005, respectively, similar enhancements are scheduled for the $50 and $100 bills.
According to the Department of the Treasury, advances in home computer technology and desktop publishing software have made counterfeiting easier than ever, despite the new designs of U.S. currency intended as safeguards against counterfeiting. In the past, fake money required some understanding of inks and how to mix them to achieve the exact tones needed to create authentic-looking currency. With advances in ink-jet printing, however, so-called P-notes (printer notes) require no such knowledge about inks or printing. In 1995 less than 1 percent of counterfeit notes were produced using digital technology. By 2002 some 40 percent of counterfeit notes were produced in this manner. The most popular denomination counterfeited overseas is the $100 bill, while domestic counterfeiters focus on the $20 bill.
Perhaps because of the ease of using computers and printers, overall arrests for counterfeiting have risen sharply, from 1,800 in 1995 to 4,900 in 2002. About 99 percent of those arrested for counterfeiting are convicted. Meanwhile, tracking counterfeiters has become more difficult because, increasingly, bills are made in smaller batches, often to be used only occasionally.
The U.S. Secret Service reports that one half of U.S. counterfeit currency distributed in the United States originated overseas. Other international counterfeiting schemes included reproducing financial instruments including commercial checks, traveler's checks, and money orders. Advanced reprographic capabilities made possible through computer technology, plus the growth of the worldwide Web, have extended counterfeiting knowledge to criminals throughout the world.
Counterfeiting popular name brand products is a multi-billion-dollar white-collar crime. Fake Chanel purses and Nike athletic shoes have been seized all over the world. In 2001 the GAO reported an International Chamber of Commerce estimate that counterfeit trademarked products account for 8 percent ($200 billion) of all world trade annually. Online counterfeit sales may account for $25 billion. In 1999 U.S. Customs seized a record $98.5 billion in counterfeit merchandise, reflecting an increase of $22 billion over the previous year. Relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China became strained due to the manufacture of counterfeit products in China, as well as the production of copyrighted software and compact disks. The Chinese government claimed to be initiating criminal action against such violators, but many observers wondered whether the few resulting arrests of copyright violators was nothing more than show.
A daring example of art forgery was announced by the Department of Justice on March 10, 2004. Ely Sakhai, owner of two prominent Manhattan art galleries, was charged with buying paintings by such famous artists as Marc Chagall, Henry Moore, Paul Gauguin, and Pierre-August Renoir, having expert forgeries made of them, and then selling both the forgeries and the originals to unsuspecting dealers around the world. Sakhai faces up to twenty years in prison for mail and wire fraud.