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Former Counterfeiter Weighs in on Philly-Centric New $100 Bill Design

By Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - The 'Benjamin' is getting a brand new look.  In October, the Federal Reserve will release a redesigned $100 bill.  There's a lot of Philadelphia in its design, including Ben Franklin, Independence Hall, the Declaration of Independence, and the Liberty Bell.

But it's really all about thwarting counterfeiters.

"Fifteen million dollars, 2,332 pounds of brand new cash."

Wayne Victor Dennis says that's how much in fake $20s the Secret Service caught him printing.  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 tells KYW Newsradio. "It was exciting but it was very stressful -- every bill you pass, it was very stressful."

He's written about it in 'Counterfeit Millionaire,' but he says 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," he says.

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 says.

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

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

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 says.

The first line of defense against counterfeiters is the cashier.  Too often, Dennis says, the money-taker relies on a pH 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 explains.  "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," since some criminals will use $5 paper to print larger denominations.

Similarly, he says 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 says 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 ten different federal prisons," he says.  "Take the same effort, knowledge, persistence, and creativity, and put it to a legitimate business.  Do something legal, something positive for society."

For pictures, videos and more information on the new $100 bill, click here.

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