Counterfeit money: India faces threats from organised criminals

Image caption Future answers Ruchna Dharmadhikari from the Council of Europe

Counterfeit money may soon be banned in India.

But police there still find hundreds of fakes every day.

“I can’t even describe it, if we hear of it, then its in our area,” says one officer, who wished to remain anonymous.

He is particularly upset at the fact that people often lack the information and knowledge to identify fake currency, so end up getting stung in the end.

“They might get it in physical or paper form… but then if they don’t know what it is then they don’t know where they can buy a proper currency.

“There might be four people involved, or five. Or just a dealer, running a shop from his house or somewhere.”

Image copyright AFP Image caption Moldovan police were recently forced to tear down fake banknotes from a group of criminals (pictured)

Criminal gangs are adapting to the problem by creating more sophisticated counterfeits, using complex paper packs – which can be wrapped in a plastic box, or written on.

If they are to be intercepted by police, or plain-clothed officials, they have to know how to explain the intricate paper packs and card-coloured currency – the kind you would normally expect to see at an Asian wedding or celebration.

“The smugglers are even copying the different currencies,” says Bala Bhide, an advisor to the Governor of the Central Bank of India.

“So our models are trained to identify [the] IPTVA (Indian currency model) – what’s the pattern is so good it looks exactly like the Indian market – the masks are so accurate.”

Image copyright MIGUEL BAYO Images / Felix Gillette/IRIN Image caption Some criminals opt for a far more effective method of counterfeiting, faking 50 Euro bills

There are over 1,000 models of the Indian currency with unique physical markings.

In the recent years, cyber criminals in India have also got wise to the counterfeit opportunity.

Nearly all of them, according to police, have targeted foreign currencies or small denominations.

It is a lucrative business that some criminals are willing to take extreme measures to help them succeed.

In addition to personal training, students of mask making have hired “facilitators” who offer to organise their “initiations”.

They also hire tattooists and body artists – in some cases they even provide live demonstrations, such as sending teenagers to wax a fake money sculpture to get the impression of how it looks on someone.

The fake money ended up being sold at stores across India.

“We have limited ability to act against these people at the Indian borders. They would go overseas and when they are travelling through some country they can go unnoticed,” Mr Bhide says.

Image copyright AFP Image caption When fake money is detected at the Indian border, officials try to make sure travellers do not fall into the trap

In order to mitigate that, and protect people from being deceived, Customs has started to set up checkpoints in international airports.

These have boosted revenue significantly.

“We expect to make up more than a 100% more in the revenue that way because we have also at this time added machines to spot fake currency,” Mr Bhide says.

But he fears the fake money trade will continue.

“The requirement in this field is that we want this sort of proper legislation to be implemented here so that we can stop the traders and vendors having to find this sort of thing,” he says.

In 2016, India banned the manufacture of fake banknotes.

Later that year, a network of large-scale counterfeiting was detected in Moldova.

Later, the concerned countries contacted each other to ask if they should launch a joint investigation.

After the meeting in India between the two nations’ officials, it was decided that they would “encourage and support” each other in the fight against the trade.

The Indian customs department says it has made significant gains in the past few years, by cracking down on unauthorised currency dealers.

But it also admits that the issue is not going to be completely solved.

“You might have some salesmen who are doing it for profit and they won’t give it up,” Mr Bhide says.

“And you might have those who are raking in the money without a second thought.”

Leave a Comment