INSIDE FINANCE.

Fake `Counterfeit-proof' Bills Circulate Widely

March 22, 1998|By William Gruber.
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If you have any of the newly designed $100 and $50 bills, take a good look at them. They might be phony.

When the Treasury Department issued the $100 notes in 1996 and the $50 notes last fall, it proclaimed that they contained many new features that would make counterfeiting more difficult.

The new currencies have larger denomination numbers and bigger portraits of Benjamin Franklin (on the $100 bill) and Ulysses S. Grant (on the $50 bill). In addition, each has a watermark depicting the same historical figure that is visible only by holding the bills up to light, special inks that change color when viewed from various angles and a security thread that glows yellow when exposed to ultraviolet light.

But "counterfeits of the new 50s began showing up four days after" U.S. Treasurer Mary Ellen Withrow "introduced them at Navy Pier last October and said they were virtually counterfeit-proof," according to William Cotter, special agent in the Secret Service's Chicago office.

Cotter says the office gets about 50,000 bogus 100s and 6,000 phony 50s a month in its region, which covers Illinois, Wisconsin and northern Indiana.

"People can easily be fooled if they don't look at the bills carefully," he said. "Good copies are easy to make with modern scanning equipment, color copying machines and ink-jet printers that you can buy at any electronics store."

Chicago isn't high on the counterfeiting list, however. About 100,000 phony bills of all types showed up in the Miami area during the week ended March 7, according to a Secret Service report. New York was second with 78,000, followed by Los Angeles with 68,000; Las Vegas, 48,000; and Philadelphia, 36,000. The total for Chicago that week was 9,300, in what must have been a slow week.

Swords drawn: Everen Capital Corp. is waging war against what it regards as raiders of its employees.

The Chicago-based holding company, which acquired the Principal Financial Securities Inc. brokerage unit from Des Moines-based Principal Financial Group in January, filed a suit in Iowa last week against Raymond James & Associates. It accused James of raiding employees from a Principal branch in Des Moines to establish its own office there.

Everen also charged that James obtained "highly confidential information" about Principal's branch office network "under the guise of evaluating a potential purchase" of the firm last fall. Principal has an office in downtown Chicago, which will soon adopt the Everen name.

Early this month, a New York Stock Exchange arbitration panel awarded Everen $6 million in compensatory damages from Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. It had accused Dean Witter of raiding employees in 1994, when Everen was known as Kemper Securities Inc.

Bank notes: Steve M. Samek, 45, was named country manager for the United States by Arthur Andersen, effective April 1. He will continue to be based in the accounting firm's Chicago headquarters.

The Federal Reserve Board said it is now making transcripts of meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee held in 1992 available for public inspection. They include eight regularly scheduled meetings and four conference calls. But it said the transcripts "have been lightly edited" and some confidential material involving foreign central banks and private businesses has been deleted. So much for the historians.

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