27 Nov 23

How Secret Service Investigates and Cracks Down on Counterfeiters

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Last Updated on: 14th December 2023, 10:39 pm


How Secret Service Investigates and Cracks Down on Counterfeiters

Counterfeiting money and other important documents like passports is a serious crime that undermines trust in our financial system and national security. The Secret Service is the main agency responsible for investigating and stopping counterfeiters. They take this mission very seriously and have many techniques for tracking down and prosecuting people who make fake money and documents.

The Secret Service was originally founded in 1865 to combat the counterfeiting of US currency. At the time, around one third of all US money in circulation was fake, so cracking down on counterfeiters was crucial for ensuring faith in the financial system. Today, less than 0.01% of US currency is counterfeit thanks to the Secret Service’s efforts. But they still investigate many cases of counterfeiting every year.

How Counterfeiting is Investigated

The Secret Service relies on both proactive investigations and reactive responses to reports of counterfeit money and documents. Here are some of their main techniques for tracking down counterfeiters:

  • Running undercover operations to infiltrate counterfeiting rings
  • Working with local police and businesses to identify sources of fake money
  • Tracing the origins of counterfeit currency using forensic analysis
  • Monitoring internet forums and marketplaces for selling fake money or documents
  • Partnering with banks and retailers to identify counterfeit bills
  • Maintaining databases of known counterfeiters and counterfeit producers

When a credible report of counterfeit money comes in, Secret Service agents spring into action to track down where it came from. They interview the person who received the fake money and any witnesses. They examine the counterfeit currency for clues about how it was produced – this is called forensic analysis. Agents look for things like the paper type, ink, printing method, and serial numbers. This can reveal the sophistication of the counterfeiter and their equipment.

The Secret Service also monitors internet marketplaces and forums where people buy and sell counterfeit money or documents. They perform undercover stings to catch criminals red handed. And they maintain a database of known counterfeiters called the Counterfeit Note Tracking System. This helps identify repeat offenders.

How Counterfeiters Are Prosecuted

Once counterfeiters are caught, the Secret Service works with federal prosecutors to build a legal case against them. There are several major laws that make counterfeiting illegal:

  • The Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992 makes it illegal to possess counterfeit US or foreign currency if you know it is fake.
  • The US Code Title 18, Section 471 bans making, dealing, or possessing counterfeit currency with intent to defraud.
  • The US Code Title 18, Section 1028 prohibits identity document fraud like fake passports and Social Security cards.
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Penalties for counterfeiting depend on the value of the fake currency produced or possessed. In general, counterfeiting US currency in any amount can lead to up to 20 years in prison and fines. Making a fake $100 bill can bring up to 25 years in prison. Large-scale counterfeiting operations often result in decades long sentences.

Prosecutors will look at factors like:

  • The sophistication of the counterfeiting (printing plates, special paper, etc.)
  • How long the criminal was counterfeiting and total amount produced
  • If they were working alone or part of an organized group
  • Past criminal history

To build their legal case, prosecutors rely heavily on Secret Service agents’ investigative work. Physical evidence like recovered counterfeit bills and printing equipment are strong proof. Undercover operations and testimony from informants also provide crucial evidence for trial. Thorough forensic analysis of the fake currency can help tie it to the defendant.

Most counterfeiting cases end in plea bargains because the evidence is so overwhelming. But Secret Service agents sometimes have to testify in court about their investigations. Their expertise about counterfeiting methods is key for convincing juries.

Challenges in Catching Counterfeiters

Despite all their sophisticated tools and techniques, the Secret Service faces challenges in staying ahead of counterfeiters and bringing them to justice. A few major issues they combat include:

  • Advanced Printing Technology – Modern printers like color copiers make it easier for criminals to make decent fake money.
  • Foreign Counterfeiters – Many counterfeit US dollars come from overseas, making investigations harder.
  • Cryptocurrency – Digital currency is an emerging method for laundering and hiding illicit funds.
  • Sophisticated Operations – Some counterfeiting rings have complex networks across multiple countries.

To overcome these challenges, the Secret Service collaborates closely with law enforcement worldwide. They train foreign police in investigative techniques. They adapt their forensic science to detect new counterfeiting methods. And they aggressively monitor online markets and cryptocurrency exchanges used by counterfeiters.

The Secret Service also works to improve anti-counterfeiting features in US currency to stay ahead of criminals. Features like watermarks, security threads, and color-shifting ink make counterfeiting more difficult. New US bill designs roll out every 7-10 years to introduce advanced security features.

Protecting the Economy and Consumers

The Secret Service doesn’t just care about catching counterfeiters – they also want to limit the economic damage these criminals cause. The US dollar is the backbone of the economy. If people lost faith in its integrity, it could be disastrous.

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Some key ways the Secret Service protects consumers and the economy include:

  • Giving briefings and creating educational materials to help businesses detect fake money.
  • Offering refunds to innocent victims who unknowingly accept counterfeit currency.
  • Seizing counterfeit money and taking it out of circulation to prevent further spread.
  • Maintaining the integrity and public trust in US currency worldwide.
  • Recommending anti-counterfeiting legislation to Congress.

The Secret Service has remained highly effective over the decades at suppressing counterfeiters. Less than 1 in 10,000 US bills is fake today. But staying vigilant against new threats remains crucial for protecting the stability of the economy. The Secret Service’s dual role of policing counterfeiters and educating businesses and citizens helps maintain faith in the US financial system.

The Future of Anti-Counterfeiting Efforts

Looking ahead, the Secret Service will continue adapting to stay steps ahead of criminals. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain could help improve detection of counterfeit currency. The service is also working to crack down on identity document forgery and cybercrime involving cryptocurrency or credit cards.

But old-fashioned shoe leather investigative work will remain essential. Infiltrating counterfeiting operations requires excellent undercover agents. And the human element is still key for forensic analysis and suspect interviews. The Secret Service’s blend of high-tech tools and intensive investigations will keep them at the forefront of anti-counterfeiting enforcement. Their efforts protect both the US dollar and citizens every day.


United States Congress. “Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992.” Pub. L. No. 102-550, 106 Stat. 4090. 1992.

United States Congress. “18 U.S. Code § 471 – Obligations or securities of United States.” Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute.

United States Congress. “18 U.S. Code § 1028 – Fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, authentication features, and information.” Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute.