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$20 bill turns 10, trailblazer in fight against counterfeiters

The 'new' $20 bill turns 10 years old.

Ten years ago Monday, the U.S. government unveiled a new $20 bill, loaded with high-tech features to make it harder to counterfeit. A new $100 bill is on the way later this year, promising still more technological advances. When it came out, the $20 bill was something of a game changer in the constant battle with forgers.

“They were a very big deal,” says Dennis Forgue, who heads the currency department at the numismatic firm Harlan J. Berk in Chicago.

A key step for the 20 was its unique pigment. Look past the green and you’ll see subtle peach and blue colors, different from other bills.

“Color has had a large impact on the counterfeiters,” says currency expert Brendan Burge.

That means counterfeiters can’t just bleach ink off singles and reprint them as 20s. To keep up with printing technology thieves can get, the government is designing more complicated bills more often.

“They keep just throwing more stuff onto the bill to make it that much harder to replicate,” says Jason Kersten, author of "The Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master Counterfeiter." “Bills are getting pretty crowded now. There’s a lot of signage on the bills.”

Asked for the hottest new trend in secure money, Burge’s answer mirrored the one Dustin Hoffman got in “The Graduate.”

“It’s plastic,” Burge says. “Pure and simple, it’s plastic.”

The industry phrase is polymer substrate. Canada and Australia already make their paper money out of plastic.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter for Marketplace and substitute host for the Marketplace Morning Report, based in New York.
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