10 Most Notorious Counterfeiting Operations of the Last 100 Years

Making money is an essential part of the world in which we live, but some canny customers have decided to bypass the backbreaking toil and take the phrase ‘making money’ literally. It seems that as soon as a civilization invents a currency someone will figure out how to fake it.

Unsurprisingly, governments tend to look unfavorably upon such crimes. In the 1600s the standard punishment was hanging, drawing and quartering for men and burning to death for women. We have become more enlightened in times since then, but people are still doing their best to fake money.

10. Alves dos Reis – 1920s

Alves Dos Reis thought big. Instead of counterfeiting bills, he forged a contract from the Banco de Portugal so that he could acquire banknotes from official printers – meaning his counterfeit notes were real, though still not legitimate. By 1925 he had pumped banknotes worth £1,007,963 ($1.7 million) into the economy, which was equivalent to just under 1% of Portugal’s entire GDP at the time.

The discovery of this crime led to the devaluing of the currency, a government crisis, and contributed to the nationalist military installing a dictator – a good counterpoint to the idea that white collar crime can’t hurt people.

9. Edward Mueller – 1930s and 1940s

The subject of the movie Mister 880, Edward Mueller (whose was real name was Emerich Juettner) was world-renowned as the man who, probably, remained uncaught for his counterfeiting for the greatest length of time. Mueller’s success lay in his moderation. Rather than trying to counterfeit larger bills for an instant high-cash payout, he stuck with counterfeiting and spending lowly $1 bills locally in New York. He was eventually caught after more than 10 years of getting away with it.

8. Bernhard Krüger – 1940s

A vital part of the Nazi war machine was their currency counterfeiting operation, which was intended to destabilize Allied governments and provide much needed cash for their war effort. SS man Bernhard Krüger headed this operation, in which Jewish concentration camp prisoners were made to forge ₤600 million worth of British pounds sterling – worth a staggering $6 billion in today’s money.

When the counterfeiting of British currency came to an end, Krüger persuaded his superiors to authorize forging of US dollars, which actually resulted in his inmates surviving the war. While some prisoners spoke of his brutality, others testified on his behalf at his denazification trial.

7. Mike DeBardeleben – 1980s

Mike DeBardeleben’s downfall came from his attempts to launder his fake $20 bills and so gain access to real currency. He would make several purchases in various stores in a mall, paying for each with a separate $20 bill – and, hey presto, he now had genuine currency in his pocket. When he was identified, a nationwide search began that resulted in his arrest, at which point law enforcement officials found not only the proof of his counterfeiting, but also evidence for numerous unsolved sex crimes. His total sentence for all these offenses was 375 years.

6. Stephen Jory – 1990s

Known as Great Britain’s most infamous counterfeiter, Stephen Jory started his fakery by decanting bargain-basement perfume into designer bottles and selling it as the real thing. He admitted to counterfeiting £50 million ($82 million) worth of bills, but authorities suspect that the real number was far higher. According to the UK’s Independent newspaper, his fake currency made up two thirds of the total number of counterfeit bills in circulation between 1993 and 1998 and even tricked UV counterfeit detectors.

After he and the rest of the so-called ‘Lavender Hill Mob’ were caught, the Bank of England held up its hands and brought out a completely redesigned £20 note with beefed up security measures.

5. Arthur Williams – 1990s and 2000s

Arthur Williams began his counterfeiting career in Chicago, at the tender age of 16, when his mother’s boyfriend showed him the ropes. Over 10 years he printed more than $10 million worth of counterfeit bills, adapting his methods at every turn to match the security measures of legitimate bills. He used automotive paint to sidestep color-changing ink, used leftover newsprint paper as a substitute for the government’s secret paper recipe, and even drew his own watermarks by hand. By 2002 he had been caught, tried, convicted and sentenced to 3 years prison time.

4. Wesley Weber – 1990s and 2000s

Wesley Weber’s actions caused stores across Canada to refuse the $100 bill. His forgeries were so close to the real thing that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police considered them the best computer-produced fakes they had ever seen. In fact, the Canadian authorities redesigned the bill in part because of Weber’s success.

Weber was self-taught, honing his skills until he was ready to make his mark. He was caught in 2000 when he tried to use one of his fake bills to buy auto parts and sentenced to 5 years in prison in 2001.

3. Anatasios Arnaouti – 2000s

This British counterfeiter ran an operation that could have destabilized the economies of not one, but two nations. When arrested, the police seized fake £10 notes worth more than £2.5 million ($4.1 million) and forged US $100 bills worth over $3.5 million. The scary thing is, this was simply the cash that he had on hand; his operation had been working for years by the time he was arrested and was capable of producing thousands of bills a day!

Authorities still have no idea how many bills were produced and what proportion of that number are still in circulation. In 2005 he was convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison.

2. Albert Talton – 2000s

While many of the counterfeiting operations outlined so far have been extraordinary by virtue of the elaborate lengths that the perpetrators have gone to so as to perfectly mimic legitimate currency, what makes Talton’s case a cause for wonder is its simple methods and lack of expensive equipment.

In May 2009 he was convicted for the production of over $7 million worth of US currency – using a normal inkjet printer. Those who went to so much more trouble must be kicking themselves; a quick trip down to a computer supply store would have been much easier!

1. The Pakistani Government – 2000s

Considering the strained relations in the region, it’s perhaps unsurprising that counterfeit Indian currency is being produced in Pakistan and smuggled over the border. Pakistan is a country which is home to a number of terrorist groups, many of whom have grievances with India. Indeed, the Mumbai bombings are thought to have been financed by organizations involved in exactly this sort of crime. However, what makes the counterfeiting unique is the fact that, according to The Times of India, operations run through 2009 were being managed not by common criminals or terrorists, but by the Pakistani government itself – not very neighborly behavior at all. Indian intelligence agents were reported last year to have arrested seven men who had been planning to offload Rs1 crore ($225,000) into India. However, there were suspicions that the gang may have been handling currency worth up to forty times that amount – quite a considerable sum.