UK banknote protection thrown into sharp focus by large-scale counterfeiting scam
27 January 2021
NEWS OF the UK’s largest cash counterfeiting scam to date has, according to the International Hologram Manufacturers Association (IHMA), “focused fresh attention” on the vital importance of stepping up investment in effective security devices designed to protect the nation’s banknotes.
John Evans, Phillip Brown and Nick Winter have been jailed for their part in an organised crime group conspiracy to supply more than £12 million worth of counterfeit banknotes. The trio’s imprisonment follows a lengthy and complex investigation conducted by specialist detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate and which included what’s believed to have been the single largest face-value seizure of fake currency in UK history in the wake of a police raid at an industrial unit located in Beckenham.
Support for the investigation was provided by the Bank of England and the Counterfeit Currency Unit at the National Crime Agency.
Evans and Brown were jailed for over 15 years between them at Woolwich Crown Court on Wednesday 20 January, having previously admitted their involvement in the conspiracy. Winter was jailed for six years at a court hearing on Monday 21 December.
Evans, 27, of King Georges Walk in Esher, Surrey, was one of the main organisers of the criminal operation and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment as a result. He had also pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice for attempting to exert pressure on another man to admit his involvement.
Brown, 54, of Ash Road in Longfield, was jailed for six years and six months after he was caught printing the money at an industrial unit owned by Winter, 58, of Elmers End Road in Beckenham.
The police investigation into the criminal group’s activities began in January 2019 after the Bank of England had identified a new counterfeit £20 note that appeared to have been produced using the type of specialist printing equipment that would normally be associated with a company that produces large volumes of magazines or leaflets.
Following several months of enquiries, including mobile phone analysis of those believed to have been involved in its production, a search warrant was carried out at a business premises owned by Winter in Kent House Lane, Beckenham on Saturday 4 May 2019. Once inside the premises, officers found Brown and another man surrounded by printing equipment and large piles of counterfeit £20 notes, which were later confirmed as having a total face value of £5.25 million – believed to be the single largest face-value seizure of counterfeit currency in history. Upon his arrest, Brown told the officers: “You have caught me red-handed.”
A subsequent search of Brown’s home address led to the discovery of a list of names with numbers next to them that added up to 5.25 million – the same value of the counterfeit notes. Winter had been on holiday in America at the time his business was raided, but was arrested upon his return to the UK on Sunday 26 May 2019.
One of the names on the list seized from Brown’s home was ‘John’, which is believed to refer to John Evans. Upon his arrest on Friday 13 September 2019, officers found a highly encrypted telephone that he later admitted was evidence of criminal activity despite initially denying his involvement in this particular conspiracy.
After all three men had been charged in relation to the conspiracy, further large amounts of counterfeit currency believed to have been printed by the group’s members continued to be discovered in the months that followed.
On Wednesday 9 October 2019, a dog walker found around £5 million worth of fake banknotes dumped in Halt Robin Road in Belvedere. A further £200,940 was found scattered along the railway line between Farningham and Longfield on Wednesday 15 January last year, with the Bank of England having already identified and removed around £1.6 million worth from general circulation.
Detective Chief Superintendent Morgan Cronin of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: “Counterfeiting directly funds organised crime and hurts the UK economy by creating losses for businesses, which ultimately affects the cost of the things we all buy. It also has a direct impact on those who receive fake notes in exchange for goods or services, as what they thought was genuine money is in fact worthless.”
Cronin added: “John Evans was one of the main players in what’s believed to be the biggest conspiracy of this kind in the history of UK policing. The length of his sentence reflects the seriousness of the crimes he committed. Phillip Brown and Nick Winter also played vital roles in the operation and are also now behind bars as a result.”
He continued: “Organised criminal groups will go to great lengths to obtain expensive homes, fast cars and other luxuries to which they’re not entitled, even if it means printing the money required to do so themselves. This was a sophisticated operation, but one that was ultimately doomed to failure due to the offenders’ mistaken belief that they could carry on undetected. I hope the sentencing sends a strong message to others that we have our eyes and ears everywhere and that, ultimately, crime doesn’t pay.”
Damaging the UK
Neil Harris, senior officer in the National Crime Agency’s Counterfeit Currency Unit, stated: “Serious and organised criminals damage the economic health of the UK through their efforts to line their own pockets. We supported the operation which dismantled this criminal enterprise and prevented millions of pounds of counterfeit money from entering the UK’s economy. The impact of that counterfeit money would have been felt by unsuspecting members of the public right across the nation.”
In conclusion, Harris observed: “We remain focused in our work to combat illicit finances, which ultimately help fund to further serious and organised crime.”
According to the IHMA, the news of the counterfeiting scam adds to concerns about sophisticated criminals looking to defraud people and cash in on advancements in specialist printing techniques.
Counterfeiting is a multibillion-dollar global problem and, suggests the IHMA, this latest episode shows that banknotes continue to be under threat, and perhaps even more so, during the pandemic. Specifically, counterfeiters are looking to take advantage by printing and distributing fake banknotes, spurred on by the prospect of pumping millions of pounds of counterfeit money into the UK economy. It’s likely that the impact of this counterfeit money would have been felt by unsuspecting members of the public across the nation.
Holograms have featured successfully on banknotes for decades and, according to a recent industry report, continue to play a crucial role in issuing authorities’ strategies designed to tackle counterfeiting activity.
Today, the annual global volume of banknotes produced is in excess of 125 billion, so the reward for hologram producers capable of providing the technology to overcome the technical challenges is potentially very lucrative.
Dr Paul Dunn, chair of the IHMA, said: “Holography is an effective weapon in the battle to thwart the counterfeiters, continually evolving as a first line of defence feature for modern banknotes. The new generation of polymer notes entering global circulation are examples of this evolution and illustrate some of the best and most technically innovative holograms on banknotes, which combine with other features to deliver value-added solutions.”
Dunn added: “Even as questions are being asked about the future of cash in society, there will always be a central role for banknotes and, in tandem, the need for secure and cost-effective features that the public recognise. Trust remains of paramount importance.”
The success of holograms on banknotes has been down to their role as a Level One security feature that’s instantly recognisable (ie the technology remains to the fore as part of an array of overt features). Such features make it easy not only for the general public, but also cashiers and those operating cash tills in stores to recognise whether a banknote is bona fide.
An increasing adoption of holography on banknotes reinforces the hologram’s position as a pre-eminent security feature in the global anti-counterfeiting fight.
The use of sophisticated anti-counterfeiting features means that banknotes are more secure because they include a larger area for holograms to be featured. New Zealand was among those countries reporting a fall in counterfeiting after it introduced new hologram banknotes.