If money represents a means to an end, it should be no surprise that people throughout the centuries have gone to great lengths to create their own supply rather than earning it. Among the countless counterfeiting scandals of the ages, a handful stand out for the massive quantity of fake money produced, how they came unraveled, or both. Following are ten of the most famous.
Frank William Abagnale Jr.
Frank William Abagnale Jr. orchestrated perhaps the most famous counterfeit check passing scam in the history of money. Working under as many as eight assumed identities depending on location and occupation, Williams is said to have passed over $2.5 million in bogus checks over a five year period that spanned over twenty six countries and all fifty states in the US. It seemed that no government, region, or currency was any match for Abagnale until an Air France employee recognized him from one of the many “Wanted” posters displayed around the world featuring his face. Abagnale’s antics proved so legendary that a movie, Catch Me If You Can, was created based on the true events that comprised his life and time as a fake check crook.
Horrifying as the Holocaust was to begin with, it adds insult to injury to learn that the Nazis were also heavily involved in counterfeiting. A USA Today story from 2000 reported that fake British currency produced by concentration camp prisoners under threat of execution was found in Alpine Lake (just across the border of Austria), some 55 years following the end of World War 2. The operation was evidently a major project of the Nazi party. “Hitler and his cohorts tried to cover their footprints as their situation grew desperate”, USA Today writes, but “the mountains of documents were just too huge” according to Holocaust law expert and University of Pennsylvania professor Harry Reicher.
In their article “Britain’s Biggest Forgers Jailed”, RealPolice.net describes the activities and eventual arrest of Anastasios “Taz” Arnaouti, a 37 year old Greek Cypriot who led, “…a gang that police believe ran Britain’s biggest fake currency racket.” Arnaouti and Co. produced hundreds of millions of pounds of counterfeit notes in order to distribute them to criminals. Investigations revealed that the outfit sold £10 notes for 80 pence and £6 for $100 US bills. It wasn’t until 2002 when police raided a backstreet workshop and found the goods: a super-sophisticated printer, templates and bags of fake notes (one containing $1 million) and linked Arnaouti to the scheme. Arnaouti, a regular gambler who lived in a £250,000 flat – despite claiming to be unemployed – was found guilty of conspiracy to make and pass counterfeit currency and sentenced to an eight year prison term.
Alves dos Reis
Alves dos Reis was the man responsible for what Wikipedia calls “one of the largest frauds in history” – a meticulously planned looting of Banco de Portugal in 1924. Rather than printing his own counterfeit currency, dos Reis had the novel idea of forging a contract in the bank’s name authorizing a printing company to print more actual currency. Upon assembling a team of foreign spies and diplomats, dos Reis pushed the contract through, obtaining all the needed signatures and getting the money printed under the guise of financing a loan for Angolan economic development. When all was said and done, printer Waterlow & Sons Ltd. had produced 200,000 bank notes of 500 Portuguese escudos, amounting to roughly 1% of the nation’s GDP at the time. Though his con was eventually found out, dos Reis himself served next to no jail time and died freely of a heart attack (perhaps poetically, in poverty) in 1955.
Known today as Great Britain’s most legendary counterfeiter, Stephen Jory and his crime ring were, “…responsible for two-thirds of all the fake currency in circulation between 1993 and 1998”, according to the UK’s Independent. Working in tandem with three partners, Jory helped pump £50m onto the streets of Britain before being discovered by police and National Criminal Intelligence service investigators. Remarking on the uncovering of the historic counterfeit fraud ring, a Hampshire police spokeswoman called it “the break-up of one of the most successful counterfeit rings ever to operate in Britain.”
Samuel C. Upham
Some call him the “King of Confederate Counterfeit.” Others simply know Samuel C. Upham as the first known counterfeiter of money on the Confederate side of the American Civil War. Working in secret and distributing his currency to private buyers, Upham was said to have produced twelve different types of confederate notes and postage stamps, and sold upwards of 80,000 fake notes by May of 1862. Even as Congress mandated a death penalty for counterfeiting, Upham continued unabated, even bragging to friends and relatives that a $10,000 bounty had been placed on him, dead or alive. Prior to dying of stomach cancer in 1885, Upham is said to have sold between $10,000-$50,000 during his 15 month stint as a Confederate counterfeit artist.
The 1950 movie Mister 880 documented the activities of Edward Mueller, a New York City-based counterfeiter of $1 bills. While this may seem to pale in comparison to some of the other heists, Mueller’s true distinction is in how long he evaded capture. The movie portrays Mueller as having eluded the US Secret Service for over 10 years, continuing to peddle his fake $1 bills throughout the city with impunity. Investigators have deemed Mueller to be perhaps the longest uncaught counterfeiter in history, a feat that was no doubt aided by sticking to $1 bills rather than the $20’s, $50’s,http://www.mint.com/blog/wp-admin/media-upload.php?post_id=6734&type=image&TB_iframe=true&width=640&height=685 or $100’s that have done in so many others in such less time.
Most people assume counterfeiting is left to professional criminals or gangs, rather than the national government of a fully recognized country (Alves dos Reis’ swindling of Portugal’s national bank notwithstanding.) According to the Times of India, however, the Pakistan government engaged in a multitude of counterfeiting operations in 2009. And, rather than counterfeiting their own currency, Pakistani printing presses have flooded the market with bogus Indian currency, which was evidently sold on the street under such code names as”chappal”, “kafi”, “machchli” and “achar.” There have been other allegations that American and Singapore currency has also been counterfeited by Pakistani presses; there is also speculation that much of this currency has been used to fund terrorist attacks in the Mumbai region.
As the last woman in England to be executed by burning at the stake, Catherine Murphy’s counterfeiting is well worth mentioning. ExecutedToday.com explains that as a convicted coiner (tantamount to high treason in 1789), Murphy ranked among the most despised type of criminal in all of England and is now remembered as an unenviable historical footnote. Interestingly, Murphy was apparently hung to death, and later burned.. Following her death, the Treason Act of 1790 prohibited burning at the stake for all future crimes (at least officially.)