Counterfeit Detection: What’s Wrong With That Watermark?

Posted on 7/16/2019

Faked security features can easily fool an unwitting collector.

As any collector knows, some counterfeits are easier to spot than others. Certain fakes can be caught at a glance, while with others, the counterfeiter has put extra effort into mimicking security features, such as holograms, security threads or watermarks, in an attempt to fool collectors.

One note that PMG recently received actually managed to hit both of these criteria:

Front side of counterfeit Chinese Pick# 873 note.
Click image to enlarge.

Back side of counterfeit Chinese Pick# 873 note.
Click image to enlarge.

Right away, PMG experts noticed that something was wrong with this note. The quality of the printing is hazy, nothing like the clear engraved lines that we would normally see on a Chinese Pick# 873. An argument could have been made that the note was just very faded from age or blurred from water damage, but when we zoom in on the print, the problem becomes very clear:

Close-up of Counterfeit Chinese Pick# 873.
Click image to enlarge.

From the pointillistic pattern evident here, we can conclude that this note was produced using an inkjet printer—one of the easiest, if least refined, methods of counterfeiting a note.

However, what is interesting about this particular piece is that the counterfeiter did make an effort in certain other areas. First, the serial number was not part of the inkjet production — it appears to have been added on after the note was printed using a different method. Unfortunately for the counterfeiter, this actually just further highlights the fact that the note was faked, as the serial number ends up looking very clear when compared with the rest of the print.

Close-up of serial number on counterfeit note.
Click image to enlarge.

Even more impressive, though, is that this counterfeiter did make an attempt to reproduce a watermark. Below is a close-up of what the “watermark” looks like under backlighting:

Close-up of watermark on counterfeit note.
Click image to enlarge.

However, there are a couple of things wrong here. First, this is not actually the correct watermark for this note type. While many Chinese notes from this time period did have this five-star pattern watermark, the Pick# 873 was not one of them; instead, it should have an open star. However, if one is not particularly well versed in the specific watermarks of different Chinese banknotes, there are other issues here that can be easily spotted. For instance, take a look at the same note under UV lighting:

Front side of counterfeit note under UV lighting.
Click image to enlarge.

The way the stars go completely black is not normal watermark behavior. Moreover, below is an image of the back of the note under UV lighting:

Back side of counterfeit note under UV lighting.
Click image to enlarge.

Suddenly, the watermark is gone! It now becomes obvious that the stars were added on top of the front of the note somehow. Below is a close-up image of one of the stars, and another of the same area under specialized side-lighting:

Close-up of stars from counterfeit note.
Click image to enlarge.

Close-up of stars from counterfeit note under specialized side-lighting.
Click image to enlarge.

There is a strange sheen/texture to the stars that is not present on the rest of the note, but otherwise, the pattern of the underprint matches up with the surrounding print very well. A faked security feature like this could very easily fool an unwitting collector.

Fortunately, all notes encapsulated by PMG are backed by the PMG Guarantee of grade and authenticity, so collectors can rest easy knowing that any faked security features, well-made or otherwise, will not get past our team of expert graders.

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