Counterfeit Notes and Security Features

What is a Counterfeit Note?

A counterfeit note is a reproduction of a genuine currency note issued for circulation by the currency issuing authority of a country. Production of counterfeit notes is a common social problem all over the world. Counterfeiters cheat using public confidence in legal tender for their private gain. Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) has the sole authority to issue currency in Sri Lanka under the Monetary Law Act No.58 of 1949. Accordingly, with the approval of the Monetary Board and the Minister in charge of the subject of Finance, the CBSL issues currency for circulation. The incidents of producing counterfeit coins and notes in Sri Lanka have been observed from the very past.

Circulation of counterfeit currency has a significant negative impact to the economy of a country. It destroys the public confidence on genuine currency in circulation. Therefore, it is a special responsibility of a Central Bank to eliminate or minimize the circulation of counterfeit currency in the country. This is the reason why the production of counterfeit currencies is considered an offence under the Penal Code. At present, in Sri Lanka as in other countries it is the counterfeiting of only currency notes that is observed while counterfeiting of coins was seen only in the past. Therefore, various security features are introduced by the CBSL to the genuine notes incurring a very high cost. The aim of this article is to educate the public on security features of Sri Lanka currency notes so that they can distinguish between a genuine currency note and a counterfeit note.

Security Features Introduced in Sri Lanka Currency Notes

Central Bank of Sri Lanka has introduced various security features in notes in all 10 series of notes issued since 1950, as well as in the notes of the new series which will be introduced in 2011. These security features can be divided in to two main categories,

  1. The features that are inserted into the paper at the paper manufacturing stage
    • 1.1 Special Security paper
    • 1.2 Watermark
    • 1.3 Security threads
    • 1.4 Cornerstone
    • 1.5 Multi-Colour fibers
  2. Features introduced at the printing stage of the note.
    • 2.1 Intaglio Prints
    • 2.2 Micro lettering and Prints
    • 2.3 See through Feature
    • 2.4 Fluorescent Prints
    • 2.5 Iridescent Band

1.1 Special Security Papers

Except for Rs.200 polymer note, all other currency notes that have been issued into circulation in Sri Lanka since 1950 are printed using papers, manufactured with 100% cotton pulp. Therefore, these notes are harder and have a rough texture when touched than the normal printing paper and they also have a longer lifespan. Because of this features the genuine notes can be identified easily by touching them and feeling them with the fingers. These special security papers are manufactured securely by only a few producers in the world and therefore they are not available in the open market. Hence, the counterfeiters always use normal printing paper to produce counterfeit notes. Therefore, touching a note carefully is seen as an easy way of identifying a counterfeit note.

1.2 Watermark

The watermark is a feature which is inserted technologically to the paper at the stage of paper manufacturing. Though this feature cannot be seen at a glance it can be clearly seen when the note is held against the light. The image of the lion in the Rathnapura District flag has been used as the watermark in the notes issued since 1950 to 1985. As a policy, the Central Bank enhances the security features of notes from time to time and accordingly, the above watermark was replaced with the lion in the national flag in 1987 as it is familiar to the public. However, during the period 1990 it was noticed that there was an increase in the production of counterfeit notes and accordingly, the CBSL from 1994 enhanced the watermark by highlighting the sword in the hand of the lion.

The watermark in the new note series is seen on the left corner on the obverse of each note. Significantly, it is the mirror image of the bird printed on the right on the obverse of the note. Accordingly, the watermark in each denomination is different. Unlike with notes issued up to now, the watermarks in the notes of new series vary from note to note with its denomination. In addition, an electro type watermark which includes the denomination in numerals, appears vertically alongside watermark of the bird. All the watermarks can be seen with three-dimensional effect and by looking in to these features carefully anybody can distinguish a counterfeit-note easily from a genuine note.

1.3 Security Thread

The security thread is also a feature, which is inserted in to the paper at the paper manufacturing stage and it can be seen only when the note is viewed through the light. The security thread was introduced in to the currency notes in 1960 midway in the issue of the third currency note series. At that stage, a black coloured thin line could be seen vertically in all the currency notes.

The notes printed since 1981 carried a polyester thread with micro printing of the text "CENTRAL BANK OF CEYLON" and the denomination of the note on it. "CENTRAL BANK OF SRI LANKA" after change of name in 1986. In 1987 the security thread in Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes were enhanced with a "STARDUST" thread. This is a silver colour windowed thread of 1.5 mm width and runs continuously through the note vertically. Though this can be seen as a windowed thread, when the note is viewed through the light the thread can be seen as a continuous line. In Rs.1000 and Rs.500 notes printed during the period 2003 and 2006 the "STARDUST" thread was enhanced with a "STARWIDE" thread. Accordingly, 4 mm wide silver coloured windowed "STARWIDE" thread with a basket weave design was introduced for Rs.1000 notes and 3 mm wide silver coloured windowed thread with "Sri Lanka daisies" was introduced for Rs.500 notes. It was noticed that with the development of modern technology there was a gradual increase of the counterfeit attempts and therefore, a "STARCHROME" thread was introduced in place of "STARWIDE" thread in 2006. This was initially introduced in the newly issued Rs.2000 note in 2006. This was also a windowed thread of 4 mm width colour shifting. The colour of the thread changes from red to green when the note is tilted up and down. The denomination of the note in numerals and the letters CBSL can be seen along this thread.

Higher denominations of Rs.5000, Rs.1000 and Rs.500 notes in the new currency note series have the windowed "STARCHROME" thread with the width of 3 mm, 2.5 mm and 2 mm respectively. The colour of the thread changes red to green when the note is titled up and down. Other notes of this series have the normal security thread which is embedded in to the paper. The thread carries the letters CBSL and the denomination in all the notes of this series.

1.4 Cornerstone

Hardness of the four corners of the note enhances its durability and makes it long lasting. For the first time the Cornerstones were introduced in the Rs.2000 newly issued notes in 2006. Cornerstone feature can be seen as a watermark in the four corners of the note as diagonal bars in a rectangular area when the note is viewed through light. All the notes in the new currency note series have this security feature.

1.5 Multi-Colour Fibers

These fibers are a special security feature with a length of about 4 mm in the colours of red, green and blue inserted at the paper manufacturing stage. These fibers can be seen with the naked eye and they fluoresce under ultraviolet (UV) light. This is a new security feature that was introduced to notes by the CBSL and they can be seen in all the notes in the new currency note series. They are more prominent in notes of higher denominations.

2.1 Intaglio Prints (Raised Print Area)

When the note is touched with finger tips these raised print areas can be felt. These prints bring a roughness to the genuine currency notes. Since counterfeit notes are printed on normal printing papers, the roughness cannot be felt and this is the main difference between a genuine note and a counterfeit note. The raised prints were introduced in notes with the denomination of Rs.5 in the Queen Elisabeth II series in 1952 and in all the notes issued thereafter, these raised prints can be found. All the notes in the new series of currency note carries the intaglio printing in the central images of the obverse and top center area (e.g. The text "Central Bank of Sri Lanka"). These can be felt when touched with the finger tips.

2.2 Micro Print

Micro lettering on currency notes can be read only with a magnifying glass. These micro lettering cannot be scanned or photocopied properly. This feature was introduced in the currency notes with Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaika series in 1961 and up to now all the currency notes carry these features. In the Bandaranaika series the letters "Sri Lanka Maha bankuwa" in Sinhala was printed on the obverse of the currency notes. In the new note series the letters CBSL in micro print can be seen on the left bottom corner on the obverse of the note.

2.3 See-through Features

This is a special security feature that involves both sides of the note.It comes in different forms such as flowers, stars and figures etc. Certain parts of a complete figure are printed on one side of the note, while the balance parts are printed on the other side of the note. Hence, when we look at the note we can see only parts of the note. However, when the note is held against the light the perfect registration of the printing of both sides forms the complete picture. The notes issued after 1991 carries the above feature. This see-through feature can be seen in all the notes of the new note series. The denomination in numerals is printed on the obverse of the note with half of the numerals filled with one colour and on the reverse of the note the other half of the numerals are filled with another colour. When the note is held up to the light the numerals of the denomination can be seen in perfect registration in both colours.

2.4 Fluorescent print

This is a feature which has been printed using fluorescent ink. These features fluoresce under ultra violate light. This feature was introduced in the notes issued after 1974 August and since then, all the notes issued up to now carried this special feature. The denomination of the notes in a box have been printed with fluorescent ink in all the notes issued since 1991. This is called Blink Box. A red colourfluorescent feature called "Gemini" can be seen in the Rs.5000 note when viewed under UV light.

It is important for every user of currency notes to be familiar with the security features embedded in the currency notes including the features in the new series. This will help prevent a counterfeit note coming into our hand, there by avoiding possible loss and hassle.

2.5 Iridescent Band

A Fluorescent Yellow vertical band is printed on either side on the front of the note.

If you have any doubt about the genuineness of a note in your hand, the authenticity of such a note can be verified by producing it to the Central Bank. If someone tries to pass a counterfeit note to another party thinking it to be a genuine note, it is an offence with equal intensity of producing a counterfeit note and is subject to be punishable under criminal law. Passing information about persons who are involved in producing and distributing counterfeit notes to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) helps to investigate counterfeiting activities.

In the same way as ignorance of the law is not an excuse, ignorance about the security features in currency notes provided for the public to identify a genuine note will not be an excuse to avoid the financial loss in being deceived for accepting a counterfeit note. Hence it is the responsibility of every citizen of Sri Lanka who uses currency notes and coins to be vigilant to protect themselves from counterfeiters of currency notes.

Text edited from CBSL Supplement published in the Daily Mirror on 2011 February 3rd. Minor corrections shown above within paragraph in Bold to some dates.