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US launches new hi-tech, super-secure $100 bill to combat crime

The United States today launched its redesign of the $100 bill. The new bill, which represents the first style modification since 1969, will add a splash of blue and orange to the iconic greenback, but will also feature a whole raft of new security features.

The Federal Reserve hopes that the new bill will be much more difficult to fake than previous incarnations. Counterfeiters will have to contend with a 3D holographic security stripe encoded with bells and numbers, as well as a picture of the Liberty Bell that changes colour as it shifts in the light.

Since the $100 bill is the largest denomination of US currency, it is also the most commonly counterfeited note, and is often used by drug traffickers and criminals to illegally transport large amounts of cash. Tightening up the $100 could therefore be the key to cracking down on a number of high-profile criminal activities. Forged $100 greenbacks can be also particularly hard to trace, as their high value leads to them being less frequently used in transactions.

Despite changes in technology, rates of forgery seem to have remained constant every year. Brian Leary, a US Secret Service spokesman, claims that less than 0.01 per cent of all US dollars in circulation are counterfeit.

While the three-letter agencies seized over $66 million (£41 million) in fake bills last year, it's thought that as much as $95 million (£59.1 million) was circulated.

If it was only two-bit criminals printing money in their basements, the problem wouldn't be as severe as it is. Unfortunately, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that states are involved in the business of currency counterfeiting.

North Korea is one of the countries suspected to be involved in faking dollars. When defector Ma Young Ae fled the North, she brought with her stories of widespread production of high-quality forgeries, which are channelled out of the country through China.

These notes, known as "super-notes", are the highest priority for agencies working against forgery, as they are printed on the same Swiss presses that are used to mint most of the world's currency. However, analysts suggest that the real problem is the people who pass on counterfeit notes, wittingly or unwittingly. Citizens are obliged to turn in counterfeit notes they find, but since there is no refund policy in the US, the incentive to report fakes is virtually nil.

The $100 bill carries the image of Founding Father and polymath Benjamin Franklin.

Image: Flickr (bredgur)