Canadians are being warned to watch out for $5 bills cunningly held together by strips of tape and foil, in what police are calling a "splice and tape" trend among counterfeiters.
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The sticky-tape switcheroo is affecting Canada's new $5 polymer bills, which have been touted as harder to counterfeit than the old paper banknotes. Police say counterfeiters are removing the clear panel near the side of the bill, which also contains two shiny, embedded holographic strips. The clear plastic is being replaced with tape, and tinfoil is being used as a substitute for the holograms.
Investigators suspect the real $5 panels are being repurposed to create higher-denomination counterfeits, while the cobbled-together $5 bills are being put back into circulation. The result is two Frankenstein-like sets of bills, with each containing elements of real and fake banknotes.
Holograms on the $5 bill show Sir Wilfrid Laurier's portrait at the top of the clear panel, and the Mackenzie Tower, which constitutes the West Block of Parliament, at the bottom. Tiny fives are written across the front and back of the panel.
Other bills depict Sir John A. Macdonald ($10), Queen Elizabeth II ($20), William Lyon Mackenzie King ($50) and Sir Robert Borden ($100) in their holograms, along with various structures from Parliament Hill along the bottom.
RCMP Cpl. Vinh Ngo, of the Federal Serious and Organized Crime unit, said the problem is widespread. "I think it's everywhere really," Ngo told CTV Vancouver. "There are no certain geographical patterns."
He added that there are "some elements" of organized crime involved in the counterfeiting.
An estimated $75 billion worth of banknotes are currently in circulation. The most commonly-duped bills are the $20 and $100 denominations.
The RCMP website says cash is the most common means of payment for transactions under $25, and the second-most common means for transactions between $26-$100.
"These types of crime are driven by greed and financial gain," said Const. Jason Doucette, of Vancouver Police. Doucette suggested the low-budget counterfeits might indicate a larger scheme. "There's not a lot of financial gain in doing one $5 bill, so I suspect there's more to come."
When presented with the fake $5 bills, several Canadians in Vancouver couldn't immediately tell the difference.
"This is what these individuals prey upon – people not verifying the bank note," Bank of Canada analyst Farid Salji said.
Salji says Canadians should always check two or more of the security features on their bank notes, so they don't get duped by a Frankenstein bill. "Never rely on one," he said.
The Bank of Canada website includes thorough breakdowns of each polymer banknote, including its history and security features.
Knowingly creating, possessing or circulating counterfeit currency is illegal and punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Anyone who suspects they might have a bogus banknote is encouraged to turn it in to police or a bank.
With files from CTV Vancouver