Man spent $7 million in bogus currency made with cheap inkjet printer

Details has an article about a guy who lived like a high roller by printing more than $7 million with an ink-jet printer and supplies from Staples.
When Talton set out to circumvent the U.S. Treasury's security measures, he had no experience in counterfeiting, printing, or graphic design, and he didn't even own a computer. His first attempts were made with a Hewlett-Packard all-in-one ink-jet printer/scanner/fax/copier, which could be picked up at the time for less than $150. Early experiments, printed on regular copy paper, were fuzzy, so he cleaned up the original image on a computer. But there was a problem, Talton says: "It wouldn't take the mark." Counterfeit-detection pens mark yellow on genuine currency but brown or black on fake. Talton didn't know why. At first he thought the Treasury treated the paper, so he experimented with chemicals he found at the body shop and even tried dipping his notes in fabric softener. Nothing worked. Frustrated, he began taking a detection pen everywhere he went, trying it on whatever paper he came across. He was about to give up when one day, sitting on the toilet, he found himself staring at the roll of tissue beside him. He took out the pen: The mark showed up yellow. Talton discovered that toilet paper, the pages of Bibles and dictionaries, and newsprint are all made from the same kind of recycled paper pulp, and all take the mark. Newsprint is strong, and it has an additional advantage for the large-scale buyer: "Newsprint is real cheap," Talton says.
Ink jet counterfeiter


  1. Hewlett-Packard should really jump on this. “Our all-in-one ink-jet printer/scanner/fax/copier pays for itself!”

  2. I want to know what sort of inkjets he was using.

    Most of them produce fairly ghastly results on paper designed and sold for the purpose. An inkjet that could produce offset-press quality output on newsprint would be a revelation.

  3. “Our all-in-one ink-jet printer/scanner/fax/copier pays for itself!”

    Not quite. Once you factor in the cost of ink refills you only make pennies on the dollar!

  4. “Your honor, the prosecution has accused me of ‘printing money’. I prefer to describe it as an economic stimulus package …”

  5. Counterfeit detection markers are a huge scam. All they are is iodine. They react to starch. Real money is made with paper that has no starch. Most paper people get at the store is starchy. Thus.

    James Randi regularly gets lots of $50 bills at the bank. He then sprays them all with starch so that counterfeit detection pens give false positives.

    They should really shut down the people who make those pens for false advertising. There are enough counterfeit detection measures in our money, watermarks, strips, etc. that pens have no need.

  6. This is the cost of using such detection pens. Employers don’t trust their underpaid employees to have the common sense, observation skills, etc to detect counterfeit money, and they don’t want to train them. Instead, they give them a cheap technology to replace their judgment. Which makes things like this possible.

    A good cashier will use all their senses, and I don’t think newsprint feels very much like the cloth/paper that US currency is printed on. But as long as the pen says it’s ok, it must be ok, because that’s the procedure.

    Look for similar sorts of behaviors in HMOs, or other places where human judgment has been systematically replaced by a routinized set of procedures.

  7. I’m with Phisrow! Neither of my printers can produce a decent page without banding and streaks, let alone a color print good enough to pass for currency…

  8. To be accurate, the gentleman in question did not spend $7 million, he produced $7 million in counterfeit notes and sold his product to others for cents on the dollar.

  9. That was a neat article. Most shocking thing to me was the 9 year sentence he received. If the RIAA were running the Secret Service he’d be serving 10 life sentences!

  10. Regarding the RIAA – yeah, that was the first thing I thought of when I read the sentencing. If this is one of the worst crimes in the country and it is spelled out in the constitution, why did he get so little jail time and file sharers get so much?

  11. “the prosecution has accused me of ‘printing money'”

    The correct defense is they are not prints, they are reproductions. This was the defense that J. S. G. Boggs used. Not sure if it worked.

  12. Great article, but your headline is misleading: the forger did not actually spend the $7 million in phony bills (he sold most of them).

  13. Before all you charlatans go out and purchase the necessary materials to produce such counterfeit bills, just be aware that most, if not all, new printers have a secret code embedded in everything that it prints; thus if you copied some bills with that printer, the necessary marks would give you away. I guess there is a 1 in a billion chance that the marks came from someone else with a different printer, because they are that unique.

    This is also granted that you “registered” your printer with the company; which most of us do…and don’t try this at work either. I’ve heard some horror stories about what can happen to you.

  14. @Alan #15, I suspect there’s not much one can do with $7 million without surrounding oneself with people to distribute it — and anyone in the distribution chain will pretty much know what’s going on, because of the discount on face value. Any sufficiently large group of people will have idiots in it; doubly so for a group hand-picked for willingness to break the law.

  15. @18 – Yes. The average criminal is no mastermind. That’s why they get caught. So far, the only successful counterfeiter of US currency has been the government of N. Korea. KJI and the DPRK can afford the proper equipment and supplies, as well as finance a distribution network that uses Las Vegas casinos to launder their product.

  16. The “mastermind” was blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars on luxury automobiles. If the Secret Service hadn’t caught him the IRS eventually would have.

    Only the dumb crooks go into counterfeiting. The smart ones go into Wall Street. (What’s a few hundred grand compared to a trillion-dollar bailout?)

  17. Print millions, you’re a criminal. Print trillions, and the President appoints you to a second term as chairman of the Fed.

  18. @geobarefoot #10,

    “Man spent $7 million in bogus currency” is entirely accurate. He spent it on legitimate currency.

  19. Mojave,

    You are right. It does sound like a dare. Luckily, it’s not a double-dog dare, or else I’d just HAVE to do it. Whew!


  20. Frustrated, he began taking a detection pen everywhere he went, trying it on whatever paper he came across. He was about to give up when one day, sitting on the toilet, he found himself staring at the roll of tissue beside him.

    The paper is 75% cotton, 25% flax (treated). So tissues would seem like a good start. Maybe a strong paper towel? Here’s a bit from Modern Marvels about how the paper is made

  21. I came across one of these bills, or one very closely matching the description. Wish I’d known to look for the quadrant mark at the time.

    Someone in line ahead of me at Staples tried to pass it while buying maybe $12 worth of office supplies. When the cashier got suspicious and called a manager, he made a big deal of pointing out how it passed the pen test.

    I got him to hand it to me for a second, and it definitely felt like it had been coated with something. There wasn’t any microprinting visible and on close inspection it wasn’t really that great a copy.

    They just gave the guy back his bill, though, to go and try to pass somewhere else. Wonder if he’d have stuck around if they’d held on to it and called the cops.

  22. At least the Yanks take counterfeiting moderately seriously; albeit not to the extent of having multi-coloured money. Up here in Canada we have the highest counterfeiting rate in the industrialised world. Several denominations of bills, such as the $100 are worthless as no one but the banks will accept them for anything. To my knowledge there’s been little or nothing done about this.

  23. @21 stats err – does the average criminal get caught, or is it that the average member of the population of caught criminals is no mastermind?

    Agreed many crims must be a bit thick, especially around risk / reward, but I’d estimate the population of uncaught crims are quite a lot smarter than the others.

    And this fella – all he needed was a license. Hugh Hefner had one. The Fed definitely has one. Gotta get me one.

  24. hmm from the article it seems like he couldnt forge the braille i always look for the braille first when receiving large bills

  25. Ah, people laughed at us in Australia when we introduced plastic notes, but at least this kind of thing couldn’t happen here as a result.

    At least, not until these printers hit the market…

  26. @31 Since the time there were problems with Canadian $100s, the Bank of Canada redesigned all of it’s currency. I believe that this guy was responsible for what you’re speaking of: . I’ve never had a problem passing a newly designed Canadian 50 or 100.

  27. Frustrated, he began taking a detection pen everywhere he went, trying it on whatever paper he came across. He was about to give up when one day, sitting on the toilet, he found himself staring at the roll of tissue beside him.

    If toilet paper, bibles, dictionaries and — FFS — newsprint are all starch-free, then I don’t think he could really have been trying that hard. I wonder how much more of this report has been sexed up with bogus drama.

  28. Yep I think if the US was really serious about cutting down on forgery they’d perhaps think about following Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei, Chile, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua and New Guinea, Romania, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Viet Nam, Western Samoa and Zambia and bring in Polymer bank notes.

    Oh, oh and possibly making the notes slightly different sizes and colours could be a good step if they can’t work out the whole plastic thing!

  29. I’ve always found using US currency to be a pain. Not only do the notes look too similar – but there is no size differentiation.

    Australian bank notes have always been graded in size (smallest notes have the lowest value) and have used colouring as well. This suits me – I can’t remember ever handing over the wrong denomination note.

    People with poor eyesight are assisted by the colour and tone differences – and if they lose the ability to differentiate on that basis, you can always check the size.

    The move to polymer notes makes the cash even harder to forge – and the notes last far longer. No-one in their right mind would try and light a cigar with an Australian banknote – the smoke would probably be carcinogenic!

  30. @39 I use US currency everyday and I can’t say that I’ve ever passed an incorrect bill or found myself scrambling to find the correct bill from my wallet. It’s just a different system that’s, well, different for people who don’t use it natively. That’s all.

    And technically all smoke is carcinogenic. ;)

    1. I use US currency everyday

      Six months ago, I bought a book in a used bookstore and the owner would only accept cash or checks. I had to go to the ATM to get the cash to buy the book. That was the last time that I touched cash. I still have the change from the transaction.

  31. @31, @38: For the past several years, the U.S. has been phasing in new bills with a number of anti-counterfeit measures, including watermarks and different colors for each denomination:

    The colors are subtle, but I slightly suspect that this is an intermediate stage to avoid backlash from the public. Once people get used to the various hues, I imagine that future iterations might be less green.

  32. @ Antinous 41:

    Six months ago, I bought a book in a used bookstore and the owner would only accept cash or checks. I had to go to the ATM to get the cash to buy the book. That was the last time that I touched cash. I still have the change from the transaction.

    Then you are much more trusting than I am. For random small purchases, I greatly prefer to use cash. If I use cash, I know that there’s no way my credit card info can be abused.

    I don’t even have a debit card. Having a magic number that withdraws cash directly from my bank account seems tragically foolhardy to me. If my credit card’s magic number is compromised (which it has been), at least I suffer no direct loss.

    For privacy and credit security, I’m preferring cash more and more, and using my credit card less and less.

  33. There’s material for a videogame there. You are a counterfeiter; start with common materials and tinker with distribution so you won’t get caught. The more you make, the more you can afford better materials, the more you can amass or move huge sums. You’ll have to remember to change serial numbers, vary denominations etc. Try not to get caught before you can make, say, $20 million profit to retire in the Caribbeans (or start your own legitimate biz, ala StringerBell).

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