Counterfeit-resistant $5 and $10 bills debuting

WASHINGTON - The nation's money makers have finally gotten around to giving Abe and Al facelifts, leaving only George in his untouched state.

New $5 and $10 bills, featuring a big and slightly off center Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton, respectively, are making their debut Wednesday.

They join an oversized Andrew Jackson on the $20, Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 and Benjamin Franklin on the $100 - all of which have received makeovers to thwart high-tech counterfeiters.

There aren't any plans to give George Washington, whose visage is on the most common bill - the dollar - a high-tech facelift because the note isn't all that attractive to counterfeiters, experts say. The same goes for the $2 bill.

Banks and other financial institutions will begin receiving the first shipments of the new $5 and $10 bills Wednesday from Federal Reserve banks and branches. But that doesn't mean people will see the new notes that day. People may not see the notes for some time, depending on their banks' supply of older bills.

''In general, some people will start seeing the new notes within the first 10 days or so,'' said Thomas Ferguson, director of the Treasury Department's Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the world's largest currency maker.

The old bills will continue to be accepted and recirculated until they wear out.

As a rough rule of thumb, approximately 1 percent of $5 and $10 bills are replaced each week, Ferguson said.

The bureau has worked closely with industry to make sure the new bills can be read by various vending machines, including those used for public transportation.

''Certainly the experience everyone had with the $20 was helpful in adapting equipment,'' Ferguson said. ''We expect this to be a fairly smooth transition.''

The new $5 and $10 bills - unveiled last year - include a number of new features, but it's the bigger and slightly off-center portraits - that people will notice first.

The bigger portraits of Lincoln and Hamilton, the nation's first treasury secretary, are easier to recognize and their added detail harder to duplicate. Moving them off center makes room for a watermark and reduces wear on the portraits.

Other new features unveiled last year include: watermarks that are visible when held up to a light; embedded polymer security threads that glow blue on the new $5 bill and orange on the new $10 bill when exposed to an ultraviolet light; and very tiny printing, visible with a magnifying glass.

Similar features are included on the redesigned $20, $50 and $100 bills.

Treasury and the Federal Reserve, in a report earlier this year, said the new bill designs are proving effective. ''The incidence of counterfeiting of the new design notes is dramatically lower than that of the older design notes,'' the report stated.

Over the years, counterfeiters have graduated from offset printing to sophisticated color copiers, computer scanners, color ink jet printers and publishing-grade software - technologies readily available.

In fiscal year 1999, $180 million in counterfeit money was reported - a tiny amount compared with the $480 billion of genuine U.S. currency in circulation worldwide. Fives and tens comprise 13 percent of that currency.

The $100 got a high-tech makeover in 1996, the $50 in 1997 and the $20, the second-most common U.S. bill in circulation, the following year.

The government's moneymakers, Treasury officials say, are always considering new features to make the nation's currency harder to knock off.


On the Net: information on the redesigned notes at Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing:


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