The euro and the battle against counterfeiting: a report on the first year


The Euro currency was launched in January 2002 accompanied by forecasts by the police intelligence services of wide spread counterfeiting. The Balkans were claimed to be full of criminal gangs waiting to flood the launch of the new currency with counterfeit notes and coins. Like the forecasts of computer disasters caused by the millennium all these predictions proved very wide of the mark.


By the end of the euro’s first year there were over eight billion euro bank notes and nearly forty billion euro coins in circulations yet the number of counterfeits found in circulation during 2002 was relatively small. 167,118 counterfeit notes were found and 2,339 counterfeit coins. The number of counterfeit notes was about a quarter of that found in the previous currencies. Indeed the number of counterfeit coins was less than five percent of that found just by France before the introduction of the euro. These figures do not include any currency seized by the police before it passed into circulation.


Numbers of counterfeit euro notes found in circulation in 2002

(European Central Bank)











1st 6 months









2nd 6 months



















Two Europe wide centres have been set up for examining the better quality counterfeits. The one for notes is controlled by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt while that for coins has been given a temporary home by the French Mint at Pessac. These centres have not published any detailed reports on the quality of the currency involved. It would appear that initially only very poor quality counterfeit notes were found. These included a couple of notes with the individual reproductions of each side of the note glued together! They included photocopies and pc scanned and printed notes. Inevitably with this type of note there was no watermark or black thread in the paper, no embossed lettering and no hologram.


Number of counterfeit euro coins found in circulation in 20002

(European Commission)


















Only just over fifty counterfeit coins were found in circulation during the first six months of the 2002. Presumably these were metal castings. Certainly one of the few descriptions we have of an early one-euro counterfeit from Ireland points to it being of a very poor quality with no interrupted milled edge. The police described the coin as looking as if it had been in circulation for thirty or forty years. Over the full

year about seventy percent of the counterfeit coins found in circulation were struck coins. The European coin centre has sorted these into eleven classes. It is not clear whether this means eleven different manufacturing centres or just the use of eleven different country or die types. These counterfeits were mainly one and two-euro coins. The European Commission states that these counterfeits should be generally rejected by properly functioning vending machines. What is not clear from this statement is whether the counterfeits had not reproduced the carefully designed electronic and magnetic properties of the genuine coins or the tight physical tolerances.

Europol is the European Union law enforcement agency that handles criminal intelligence. It has recently announced that in 2002 about five hundred people were arrested for involvement in over eight hundred cases of making and distributing counterfeits both inside and outside the euro zone. We do not have any official geographical breakdown of these cases

The question now is will this position last? Will the claims for a reduction in the amount of counterfeiting by introducing high technology methods into the new currency be achieved? These questions do not appear to be answered at present. There was a large increase in the numbers of counterfeits found between the first and the second half of the year. It appears the counterfeiters needed to wait to obtain copies of the genuine notes and coins before starting into full production. We will need to wait and see if this increase in numbers continues into the future.

Action by the police towards the end of 2002 in Italy and Bulgaria appear to have prevented further large amounts of counterfeits being distributed. Italy has traditionally been a very active centre of counterfeiting, producing fakes not just of its own currency but of many other countries as well. In the late nineteen forties and the fifties it was very involved in producing counterfeit British sovereigns. Behra one of the first Italian based, sovereign counterfeiters used to boast that his coins contained more gold than the genuine coins. The Royal Mint showed this to be a myth.

In 2001 one senior Italian police officer admitted that more illegally produced bank notes were produced in Italy than in any other European Union country. At that time most of the counterfeiting of notes took place in Northern Italy. This had the sophisticated offset printing equipment required to produce reasonable quality counterfeit notes. In February 2002 the Italian police seized 25,000 forged euro notes believed to originate in Rome. Carlo Mori, head of the anti-counterfeit unit of Italy’s Carabinieri police claimed these were the “first fake euros worthy of the name”. Then in November Italian police raided a Turin factory minting counterfeit Italian, French and German one and two euro coins. This was the first factory found to be producing these coins although another similar Italian factory has been discovered subsequently.

According to the head of the USA secret service’s counterfeit department Bulgaria has become one of the world’s biggest producers of forged dollars after Colombia, Chile and the USA itself. So perhaps it was only a matter of time before Bulgaria criminals tried to take advantage of the euro. In September 2002 counterfeit euro notes started to appear in Greece. The number of these notes found peaked in November and December 2002.  Greek police believe all these originated in Bulgaria. Certainly the largest haul in counterfeit notes, one million euros, was seized in a joint Bulgarian, Macedonian and Austrian police operation in December 2002. These had been produced on a colour printing press in Plovdiv, southern Bulgaria and were due to be smuggled into Austria via Macedonia.

Finally mention must be made of Dutch artist, Rutger Paets. In the name of art, this gentleman has been removing the centres of two-euro coins and replacing them with the centre from the coin of another member country of the euro zone. In August 2002 Paets made twenty-five of these coins combining parts from eight countries in a project “exploring the issue of national identity and protesting the introduction of the single currency”. Perhaps it is best left to the reader to decide if these qualify as counterfeit coins.