Police have warned people to remain vigilant against counterfeit banknotes, pointing to a sharp rise in the volume of low-quality, fake small-denomination bills seized by authorities this year.
In the nine months to September, 1,836 pieces of fake banknotes were found in the city, marking a drop of 4.7 percent over the same period last year.
However, there was a steep jump in the number of counterfeit small-denomination bills, according to the police’s Commercial Crime Bureau.
Fake hundred-dollar bills, fifty-dollar bills, and twenty-dollar bills seized by the police were up 318 percent, 99 percent and 98 percent respectively in number, the bureau said.
Twenty people were arrested for possession or use of fake notes during the nine months.
Cheng Ka-wai, a counterfeit notes expert at the Commercial Crime Bureau, said the fake bills were printed using normal laser printers, and that they were of poor quality with very smooth surfaces and no watermarks.
In some bills, silver stickers were found in place of the holographic windowed thread found on genuine notes, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Cheng said the notes are “really too fake” and one can easily figure them out by mere sight and touch if one pays close attention.
However, the fact is that most citizens tend to be careful with only five-hundred-dollar bills or thousand-dollar bills, while putting the smaller notes in their wallets without checking, he added.
This has created an opportunity for criminals to produce fake notes of smaller face values.
According to police statistics, starting from June, there has been an obvious increase in counterfeit bills of small denominations. Of 923 fake hundred-dollar bills found during the first nine months this year, 60 percent were confiscated since June.
Cheng says that most of the time the bills are passed off in convenience stores, wet markets, newsstands or small retail stores and public transport. The fake notes are uncovered only when the retailers try to deposit the cash at banks, which in turn notify the police.
As to arrests made, the police believe that the cases all pertain to individual fraudsters. Authorities believe the culprits are “casual counterfeiters”, and the hunt is still on for some of them.
Cheng admits that citizens could get in trouble for unknowingly depositing counterfeit money, but said it would depend on the circumstances. The police, in their investigations, will take into account whether a person had a large amount of counterfeit bills, or just one or two in a stack, he said.
The police urged the public to be vigilant, saying they should double-check each time they receive banknotes, especially security features such as the watermark, denomination numeral, holographic windowed thread, and the fluorescent machine readable barcode.
If a person is unsure about the genuineness of a bill, he or she should call the police or notify a bank for help. Meanwhile, the banknote should not be used.
Macau police have also recently cracked a case involving counterfeit bills, confiscating over 193 thousand-dollar notes. Some reports described the bills as high-quality counterfeits, but Cheng dismissed the speculation.
According to him, the notes were of similar quality to those found in Hong Kong.
While the quality of the fake notes may be similar, Cheng believes the Macau case was unrelated to the Hong Kong incidents.
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