Former counterfeiter wouldn't "waste my time" on new $100 bill

PHILADELPHIA There's a lot of Philadelphia in the redesigned $100 bill, from Ben Franklin to Independence Hall, the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell, but it's really all about thwarting counterfeiters.

Wayne Victor Dennis told CBS Philadelphia station KYW-AM the Secret Service caught him printing $15 million - "2,332 pounds of brand new cash" - in fake 20s. The money looked so real it was making it in and out of banks years after he went to prison.

"I'm not proud of what I did, but I was proud of the job I did," Dennis told KYW-AM. "It was exciting, but it was very stressful - every bill you pass, it was very stressful."

He's written about his career as a counterfeiter in his book "Counterfeit Millionaire," but he said there's nothing get-rich-quick about faking this new $100 bill.

"I would never - but if I chose to go back into that profession, I would never even waste my time on this currency," Dennis said.

It's largely because of one particular security feature: the 3-D ribbon, a vertical blue bar made of thousands of tiny lenses. Images of bells shift to 100s when the bill is tilted.

"It's a great idea, and I think it would be the most difficult part to counterfeit on this new bill," Dennis said.

The new design of the $100 bill is shown after it was unveiled at the Treasury Department in Washington, on April 21, 2010.
The new design of the $100 bill is shown after it was unveiled at the Treasury Department in Washington April 21, 2010. AP Photo

The Franklin watermark is also tough to reproduce, though a rubber stamp inked with an olive oil-water mixture would get crooks close.

"You can simulate that but not make it a perfect reproduction," said Dennis. "You'd always be able to tell when you hold it up to a light."

Add in microscopic text, a giant fading gold "100" on the back and a Liberty Bell in an inkwell that changes color and Dennis says the Benjamin could finally lose its crown as the most common counterfeit.

"If I was to go back into that business, I wouldn't even attempt it because there's just too much sophistication," he said.

The reverse side of the new $100 bill is shown on April 21, 2010.
The reverse side of the new $100 bill is shown April 21, 2010. AP Photo

The first line of defense against counterfeiters is the cashier. Too often, Dennis said, the money-taker relies on an acidity-testing pen to verify if a bill is legit.

"All I have to do is spray a counterfeit bill with clear Krylon paint, and it'll fool that pen any time," he said. "It'll make the bill feel even more real. I tell them to check the watermark. Go ahead and mark the bill, if that's what your manager tells you to do, but also hold it up to the light. And don't just check to see that there is a watermark - make sure it's the same president" because some criminals will use $5 paper to print larger denominations.

Similarly, Dennis said few frontline cash handlers know to look for certain features, like color-shifting ink. Instead, when they see sparkly ink - which can be replicated by counterfeiters using glitter - they think it's real. And few cashiers use magnifiers to look for microprinting.

Dennis said there's no such thing as a "counterfeit-proof" bill, but currency-makers are getting better every year and criminals struggle to keep up. Even the best ones get caught: He's living proof.

"I was at something like 10 different federal prisons," said Dennis. "Take the same effort, knowledge, persistence and creativity and put it to a legitimate business. Do something legal, something positive for society."