When I was a young Secret Service agent on a local financial crimes task force between 2000 and 2002, I was inundated with an explosion of new counterfeit cases. There were a number of causes for this explosion in currency counterfeiting but the main ones were: the rapid advancement in ink-jet printing technology, the declining costs, and correspondingly increased availability of affordable home printers. Prior to these technological advancements, counterfeiting U.S. currency was the near exclusive purview of state-sponsored actors, sophisticated criminals and criminal syndicates.
With the growth in ink-jet printing, any thirteen-year-old with a printer could counterfeit money. I, along with hundreds of other Secret Service agents, were so preoccupied with tracking down this new class of counterfeiters and stemming the tidal wave of new counterfeit making its way into the money supply that I never had the time to philosophize on the deeper reasons why this crime is so dangerous to national cohesion.
We are lucky enough to live in a time where the authenticity of the physical currency in our wallets is taken for granted, but when the Secret Service was founded in 1865 to combat counterfeiting—the Secret Service’s role in Presidential Protection didn’t formally begin until 1901 after the assassination of President William McKinley—it was estimated that approximately half of the currency in circulation was counterfeit. Think about that: you had a roughly 50 percent chance, when engaged in commerce, of receiving money with ZERO value. That people had faith in their currency was so important to the U.S. government at the time that the Secret Service was established and charged with hunting down and prosecuting counterfeiters in order to re-establish public trust in the battered dollar.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the Conservative Review. The featured image of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is by Jacquelyn Martin | AP Photo.