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As Digital Payment Fraud is on the Rise, Euro Banknote Counterfeiting drops to Historically Low Level

Categories : Cash generates security
January 22, 2021
Tags : Counterfeiting, cyberfraud, Euro, payment fraud
The number of counterfeit euro banknotes withdrawn from circulation in 2020, has dropped by 17.7% in a year and has reached a historically low level in proportion to banknotes in circulation.
Guillaume Lepecq

Chair, CashEssentials

This post is also available in: Spanish

Digital fraud has adapted to the pandemic

One of the many effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been an acceleration of the use of digital payments, driven by social distancing measures and exaggerated fears that the virus could linger for weeks on notes and coins. This shift has deepened concerns about potential cyber security risks for consumers and businesses, as well as new kinds of fraud.

Fraudsters have adapted their tactics to exploit the fear, uncertainty caused by the pandemic – including resorting to fraudulent online messages offering Covid-19 medical support and relief payments. These scams ask individuals to verify their personal information such as passwords, accounts and other payment information, in order to steal money. Over 900,000 spam messages, 700 malware attacks and 48,000 malicious domains were discovered in the first four months of 2020, according to an Interpol report – all mentioning coronavirus.

17 Counterfeits per million genuine notes

Meanwhile, some 460,000 counterfeit euro banknotes were withdrawn from circulation in 2020, a decrease of 17.7% when compared with 2019 says the ECB. €20 and €50 notes continued to be the most counterfeited banknotes, jointly accounting for about two thirds of the total. 94.5% of counterfeits were found in euro area countries, while 2.8% were found in non-euro area EU Member States and 2.7% in other parts of the world. The likelihood of receiving a counterfeit is very small, as the number of counterfeits remains very low compared to the over 25 billion euro banknotes in circulation. In 2020, 17 counterfeits were detected per 1 million genuine banknotes in circulation, a historically low level.


Number of counterfeits detected annually per 1 million genuine notes in circulation
Source: ECB

Low-quality reproductions are continuously withdrawn from circulation. All are easy to detect as they have no security features, or only very poor imitations of them. Ever since the first series of euro banknotes was issued, the Eurosystem has encouraged people to be vigilant when receiving banknotes. The ECB advises to check notes by using the simple “feel, look and tilt” method described in the dedicated section of the ECB’s website and on the websites of the national central banks. The Eurosystem also helps professional cash handlers ensure that banknote-handling and processing machines can reliably identify counterfeits and withdraw them from circulation.

Using counterfeits for payments is a criminal offence that may lead to prosecution. The Eurosystem supports law enforcement agencies in their fight against currency counterfeiting. The Eurosystem has a duty to safeguard the integrity of euro banknotes and to continue improving banknote technology. The second series of banknotes – the Europa series – is even more secure and is helping to maintain public trust in the currency.



This post is also available in: Spanish