Protecting banknotes from forgery is a key challenge for all major central banks. Every year, hundreds of thousands of counterfeitThe reproduction or alteration of a document or security element with the intent to deceive the public. A counterfeit banknote looks authentic and has been manufactured or altered fraudulently. In most countries, currency counterfeiting is a criminal offence under the criminal code.
notes are seized, representing a tremendous loss for the economy. In 2014 alone, 838’000 fake euroThe name of the European single currency adopted by the European Council at the meeting held in Madrid on 15-16 December 1995. See ECU.
notes were seized by the authorities, the €50 accounting for more than the half of the amount. To cope with the problem, the European Central Bank (ECB) decided to turn to science and called on David Eagleman, neuroscientist, to find new solutions.
The ECB sought to understand how the brain perceives banknotes and which security features should be added or enhanced to make it easier for the public to authenticate them. The main issue is that people hardly ever notice fake notes which usually surface only once they’re processed by banks thanks to their forged machine-readable codes. Yet various campaigns have been carried out to raise people’s awareness and encourage them to be more attentive to sophisticated features such as colour-changing inks, watermarks and holograms.
The results of Eagleman’s tests demonstrate that our brain sees the global aspect of the banknoteA banknote (or ‘bill’ as it is often referred to in the US) is a type of negotiable promissory note, issued by a bank or other licensed authority, payable to the bearer on demand.
focusing on special features only if it is asked to. In other words, people do not pay attention to details and might thus not notice that a crucial pattern is missing as long as the note matches the general template. As a consequence, Eagleman recommended to get rid of “decorative” details that form distractions for the eye and to favour the use of a single recognizable feature in the middle of a blank note. The ECB reminded however that banknotes are also the showcase of a country’s history and culture and that the artistic aspect plays a significant role.
Finally, Eagleman proposed to replace the monuments that appear as watermarks with portraits of renowned persons as humans have much more ease to distinguish between faces than edifices. Indeed, the ECB chose a new watermarkA security feature used on most banknotes. It consists of variations in density and thickness created during the paper production, resulting in variations in their opacity. The combination of these variations forms an image embedded in the paper, which is visible with backlight. Due to its variations in thickness, the watermark also has a raised relief effect.
for its last series: the portrait of the mythological princess “Europa”.
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