The risk of forgery to a country's economy can be larger than the public assumes, and governments, as well as individual citizens need to join the fights against it.
By Linda Karadaku for the Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 22/09/12
Countries with large cash economies, such as Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Kosovo, are exposed to greater quantities of counterfeit currency. [Reuters]
Kosovo police arrested five citizens in September on charges of organised crime and counterfeiting US currency. They confiscated nearly $1 million in counterfeit bills.
The police found the money stashed in a house in Gjilane, and the equipment to produce the forgeries was in Pristina.
"In countries where forged money is a small amount relative to the money in circulation, it does not represent macro-economic risk, but its micro-economic effects can be big," Jeton Bajramaj, director of cash and payments at the Kosovo Central Bank, told SETimes.
These include price hikes, lowered confidence in the currency, increased difficulty in making transactions and robbing citizens of value because they receive no reimbursement for confiscated forged money.
Kosovo established a central committee for the analysis of forged money in 2009, which closely co-operates with the central bank and other financial institutions, the police and the forensics lab.
"However, this fight should be wider, more systematic and include not only the authorities in charge, but also the public," Bajramaj said.
More than 250,000 euros in counterfeit notes were withdrawn from circulation in Europe in the first half of this year.
Given the severity of the problem, the European Central Bank issued a warning on July 16th, advising the public to remain alert with regard to banknotes received in cash transactions.
It reported 20- and 50-euro notes continue to be forged the most.
Only 2 percent of the counterfeit money was found in EU member states outside of the eurozone and only 0.5 percent elsewhere in the world.
More than half of the estimated 800,000 fake euro notes taken out of circulation annually are forged in Italy, but significant amounts are also found in Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Colombia and Russia, The New York Times reported last April.
The Bulgarian police seized forged notes valued at $150,000 and 85,000 euro intended for the EU markets in June. They arrested three people in the operation conducted in co-operation with Europol, the US Secret Service and the Spanish police.
The counterfeit money had been distributed in Greece as well as other EU member states.
Last July, the police warned of counterfeit notes found in shops and gas stations in 500 lek denomination.
Continual technological progress in photography and printing has tremendously increased the danger of money counterfeiting, according to Zef Preci, executive director of the Albanian Center for Economic Research.
"To prevent forged money in circulation, the public should become aware not only to recognise it, but also to carry out transactions through the banks," Preci told SETimes.
Preci explained the severity of the prolonged economic crisis has prompted greater informality and with it, the flow of criminal activities, including counterfeiting as a constant threat.
While money counterfeiting is a global problem, each state should fight this form of crime to preclude greater losses, argued Ibrahim Rexhepi, executive director of the Kosovo Centre for Strategic and Social Research.
"Counterfeiting has an impact on trade relations, poses risks for the banking system and impacts the investments and the economic development," Rexhepi told SETimes.