Fakes, Forgeries and Phonies
Fraud Prevention Month at the Museum
Fraud Prevention Month is a public awareness campaign spearheaded by Competition Bureau Canada. As you would imagine, the Bank of Canada is keenly interested in fraud prevention, something that is at the very heart of bank note design. Yes, I’m talking about counterfeiting, and it’s a perennial favourite among the topics of any economic or currency museum.
Fraud Prevention Month coincides with the March breaks for both the French and English school boards. With that in mind, our Visitor Services Team came up with some fun and informative family programming. Counterfeiting was the natural subject choice, and it made for some great stories. Providing these stories, in both official languages, was our Curator David Bergeron.
David took visitors on a tour through counterfeiting history, pointing out a range of artifacts from ancient Greece, through early Canadian history and up to modern bank notes. He talked about fraudsters who altered the face value of notes or even shaved off minute portions of precious metal coins. He also described the bizarre punishments meted out by governments to those who dared to counterfeit their currency. The tour ended with a closer look at all the security features found on the money we use every day.
During the break for the English school board, the Bank’s Currency Department teamed up with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to give visitors a chance to handle some modern counterfeit bank notes. At first glance, these notes looked just like the money in your wallet. But a little more observation revealed some surprising differences. Just touching a note can be a dead giveaway because most counterfeits will be entirely smooth to the touch, with no raised ink. Also, take a closer look at the polymer window. The metallic images printed there are extremely difficult to reproduce. What counterfeiters will do is cut the window from a $5 bill and stick it into their version of a higher denomination note. So, if your $20 bill has a picture of Sir Wilfrid Laurier in the window image, you’ve got a fake on your hands.
Corporal John McMath, from the Greater Toronto Area Financial Crime Department of the RCMP, joined Bank experts in answering hundreds of questions from interested visitors at the counterfeit kiosk. Corporal McMath was as enthusiastic as he was informed. The kiosk also provided an opportunity to show off the new $10 bill featuring Viola Desmond. Visitors were able to look at and touch some pre-production versions of this historic bank note.
During the month, our guides also presented a half-hour tour of the Decoding E-Money temporary exhibition. The technologies behind electronic payment and online currency systems are all deeply rooted in the need for security.
March break and Fraud Prevention Month were a good team this year. Nearly 700 visitors dropped by the kiosk to learn about counterfeiting, and 250 people took part in our tours. In all we had more than 3,300 visitors come by during both March breaks combined, and we did it all without free hot chocolate.