Boffins bid to outwit counterfeiters with electronic banknotes

Boffins bid to outwit counterfeiters with electronic banknotes

In a bid to thwart counterfeiters, scientists have developed tiny organic electronic circuits that can be fabricated directly onto banknotes.

Banknotes already incorporate up to 50 different anti-counterfeiting features, such as watermarks, holograms, raised printing, embedded foil strips and fluorescent inks. Yet counterfeiting is still rife, with the Bank of England taking 566,000 fake notes, with a face value of £11.1 million, out of circulation in 2009.

To tackle the problem, authorities have explored the possibility of supplementing these passive security features with active electronic anti-counterfeiting and tracking in the form of silicon integrated circuits but have been stymied because the chips are too thick.

Now, a team of Japanese and German boffins have developed organic thin-film transistors (TFTs) less than 250 nanometres thick, printing gold, aluminium oxide and organic molecules onto the notes through a patterned mask. The resulting notes hold around 100 TFTs which can be turned on and off with just three volts that could be transmitted by a reader.

Finextra Verdict:

Impressive, cutting-edge technology in the ongoing battle against the counterfeiters but never underestimate the ability of humans to negate such advances. In 2008 a woman managed to dupe a cashier into accepting a hand-made fake £20 note that stated it was from the 'Santa Christmas Bank'. The note featured a picture of Santa and his reindeer and promised to pay the bearer nothing. Santa himself was listed as chief operating officer with a North Pole address.

Comments: (2)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 07 January, 2011, 10:01Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

The woman presenting the £20 note made one crucial mistake: she claimed Santa lives at the north pole. Even children nowadays know that there is nothing at north pole - check it with Google Maps/Earth if you don't believe it.

Should she have claimed that Santa lives at Ear Fell in Finland, most people would have accepted the £20 note in fear of otherwise being seen as naughty and therefore not getting any presents next xmas.

Check out Rare Exports Inc. on YouTube or  for accurate info on Santa   ;-)

Lachlan Gunn
Lachlan Gunn - BenAlpin Ltd - Perth 07 January, 2011, 10:29Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

My feelings are in line with the Finextra verdict - as it is possible for criminals to launder stolen and stained banknotes back into circulation despite the fact that 'a stained note is probably a stolen note' (see even if banknotes were fitted with this circuitry, there is a high probablity that it would still be relatively easy for high quality counterfeits to be introduced into circulation. 

I'm not sure that every person accepting banknotes from a consumer would diligently scan every note with a reader to make sure that it was the case of the person who accepted the 'Santa Christmas Bank' bill, I think that we can safely assume that no such scan would have taken place and, even if it had done, the womain would have assured the cashier that this was normal .  Great technology, but loads of practical issues with effective implementation.