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Laptop counterfeiting on the rise


From CNN Correspondent Don Knapp

September 23, 1996
Web posted at: 11:30 p.m. EDT

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- Police and FBI investigators cracked a counterfeiting ring that delivered big results with the aid of very small laptop computers.

Counterfeiters are taking advantage of improvements in technology, using ever smaller computers to deliver bigger and bigger results.

Wells Fargo's Lisa Wilhelm said check fraud reached nearly $6.5 billion nationally, in just the first eight months of 1996.

Widely available computers, printers and desktop publishing programs generated about third of some 300 million phony checks.


"Whatever barriers we put in, the crooks are always one step ahead of us," said Wilhelm. "When we use enabling technology to make our work more efficient, so do the crime rings."

Two men in San Francisco wrote $250,000 in bad checks before they were caught. Their primary tool: laptop computers.

Said FBI Special Agent Thomas Fuentes: "For about $3,000 you can buy a portable scanner, laptop, portable printer and an identification card making machine, and paper, and a couple of back packs and you're in business. You can move from hotel, to hotel."

It's not just checks; computers can crank out funny money too. "We're seeing some counterfeit currency manufactured using color copiers and computer technology, ink jet printers," said U.S. Secret Service agent Dan Snow.


An estimated $2 billion in bogus bills may be floating around, despite new safeguards to make money harder to copy.

Finer engraving, a watermarked portrait of Ben Franklin and special ink failed to prevent counterfeiters from generating and passing these bad $100 bills.

"We've seen some pretty poor counterfeit passed, and I've just got to put that back on the public who doesn't take time to look at their money," said Snow.

Computers compound the bad money problem. But at least some bankers look to the high tech machines to solve it.

"Our goal, we'd like to see a checkless society. Because checks are vulnerable to this kind of fraud," said Wilhelm.

That may not stop fraud, but at least it leaves behind an electronic paper trail.


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