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'Greenbacks' May No Longer Be Green


They call U.S. dollar bills "greenbacks" because, for more than a century now, they have been printed on neutral colored paper with black ink on the front and green ink on the back. However, the U.S. government is considering rolling out a new, multi-colored currency next year

The new bills would have subtle colors in the part of the bill that is now neutral.

Treasury Department spokesman Jim Mackin says the government wants to color the "greenback" to prevent counterfeiting. "You no longer need to be a skilled printer to carry out this crime," he said. "It's also a quicker crime. Using the computer it is not as lengthy a process. It is a 60-second crime on a computer that can expose you to 15 years in jail."

In 1995, Mr. Mackin says, less than one percent of the counterfeit dollar bills in circulation were made on computers and laser printers. Last year, he says, 39 percent were, and this year the percentage has risen to close to 50 percent.

He says most of the counterfeit bills are produced outside the United States.

"Last year there were $47.5 million in counterfeit passed into circulation in the United States," he said. "About 40 to 45 percent of that came from the country of Colombia."

The counterfeit bills are still just a tiny proportion of the $607 billion in genuine U.S. currency that is out there in the world today, two-thirds of which is in circulation outside the United States.

The last time the U.S. Government changed its currency was in 1996. Bureau of Engraving spokesman Jim Hagedorn says then, too, the motivation was to make the bills harder to duplicate.

"We put a watermark on the portrait [that is in the center of the bill] that's visible when held up to light," he said. "We added color-shifting ink in the lower right numerals on the higher denominations the 100s, 50s, 20s and 10s. We placed an enhanced security strip in the notes, and we added some micro-printing around the portrait that can be visible under a magnifying glass."

And still, Jim Hagedorn says, that did not do the trick. Mr. Hagedorn estimates the United States will have to start redesigning its currency every seven to 10 years to stay ahead of the counterfeiters.

The actual cost of redesigning the bills is quite modest, he says.

"The reason for that is that we're always remaking plates and doing the types of things on a continuous basis that we have to do when we redesign currency," he said.

The Bureau of Engraving produces 37 million bills a day with a face value of about $696 million.

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