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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK
Euro forgery fears
Flensburg  citizen, Aline Heurley checks a 500-Euro bank note in front of a poster showing the new euro currency
People are far from confident about being able to distinguish real from counterfeit
Billions of euro notes and coins are already being shipped to banks and institutions in the 12 nation eurozone ahead of the January 2002 launch.

Euro cash was officially unveiled in Frankfurt last month to much fanfare.

But some experts believe that it is criminals not consumers who will be rejoicing.

The design of the new currency was put out to competition, which was won by an Austrian.

The notes feature generic bridges and buildings of European inspiration, but the coins have one side that is specific to the individual issuing country.

Unfamiliarity

This means 96 different variants of coins in all, though all will be valid everywhere in the 12-nation Eurozone.

According to Jo Cribb at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Money Gallery at the British Museum, forgers are now ready to swing into action.

Employees of a security company transfer bags containing new Euro
Delivery of the new currency has already begun

"Every time a new currency is introduced, the unfamiliarity of its encourages forgers to step in," Mr Cribb said.

To thwart the forgers will require vigilance by the European public, as well as the police.

Derek Porter is the head of the department responsible for stamping out forgery at the pan-European police agency, Europol.

"The biggest weapon that we have against counterfeiting is public awareness and public knowledge," Mr Porter said.

"If the public really know what their own genuine notes look like, the chances are they won't accept a counterfeit.

"If they won't accept a counterfeit, you've taken away the market for the counterfeiter's product."

Raising awareness

Hence the recent televised public launch of the Euro, to try to get people used to what it looks like.

But as ordinary people won't be able to handle the notes and coins until 1 January, even in Frankfurt, the city that houses the headquarters of the European Central Bank, local people are far from confident about being able to distinguish a real Euro from a counterfeit one.

One customer said: "I've seen it in a newspaper, but I couldn't judge, exactly, whether it's real or not.

Another said: "I haven't seen it, to be honest. I don't know what it looks like. I hope to know a lot soon."

Security features

Mr Porter said various features have been built into the notes to make things more difficult for counterfeiters.

"There are security features for the general public," he said.

"The feel of the paper is one. The presence of water marks.

"But in addition to security features for the public, there are features within the notes that can be checked by cashiers in banks and shops.

"There will be security features that can be checked by sensors in banknote sorting machines."

Wide-ranging crime

However, counterfeiting is not the only problem Europol and national police forces are concerned about.


Europol say they have had reports that East European crime gangs will be converting their currency of choice into the Euro

Emma Codd, Deloitte and Touche
Perhaps even more significant is the way that the introduction of the Euro could help trans-national criminals and money-launderers.

"Europol say they have had reports that East European crime gangs will be converting their currency of choice into the Euro," said Emma Codd, Head of European Business Intelligence Services at the financial services company Deloitte and Touche.

"With the amount of money that is going to be flooding the banks in the first couple of weeks of next year, I think organised crime will be relying on the general confusion that will exist, and it will be able to flood into the banking system.

"But also at the moment, there are people buying property at vastly-inflated prices, any way they possibly can to get rid of the old currencies, so that when January comes, they will be able to convert it all into Euros without anybody noticing," she added.

Despite these fears, both the European Union and the European Central Bank are heralding the advent of the Euro as an historic moment, and a great opportunity for Europe, not just economically but politically.

"The Euro is much more than just a currency. It is a symbol of European integration, in every sense of the word," says Wim Duisenberg, head of the European Bank.

It would be ironic if criminals realise this faster than many law-abiding European citizens, many of whom still remain to be persuaded that the single currency is a good thing.

But as billions of Euros are now being distributed around the Euro-zone, the one thing is certain is that the Euro is coming, and people are going to have to get used to it.


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