Some folk are legally printing fake money, but don’t try it at home (The Funny Side)

My son’s high school economics textbook had an interesting homework question: “Why can’t you just print as much money as you like?”

Easy. “Because we have a crappy home printer and everything comes out yellow,” I said.

Okay, so that’s possibly not the answer they were looking for, but I told him good teachers value honesty more than accuracy.

A lawyer friend mentioned that a new problem these days is fake money made legal using disclaimers, a scheme pioneered by Hollywood. Thanks to a particular law of physics (“All Movies Shall Be Predictable”) films must feature scenes of money-packed briefcases near the beginning and banknotes fluttering in the air near the end. Hollywood prints tonnes of super-realistic fake banknotes but can’t be sued because they have “For Motion Picture Use Only” on both sides.

But since no one actually reads the writing on banknotes, Hollywood money regularly turns up in circulation and there have been cases recently in Michigan, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. Whoever is holding the banknotes when the disclaimer is noticed is legally liable, while the counterfeiter cannot be charged.

The same problem has sprung up in Europe. The makers of the board game Monopoly print realistic-looking euro banknotes with the disclaimer word “Monopoly” added on both sides. But nobody reads banknotes there, either, which is how one enterprising thief last year purchased six million euros’ worth of jewellery in London with Monopoly money.

Reports said the jeweller was distraught, but on the plus side, he can win every Monopoly game he plays for the rest of his life, which should provide some consolation, right?

Can you and I be lawful counterfeiters by adding a disclaimer? Yes, in theory. My lawyer friend said that you just photocopy a banknote, find the bit that says “Promises to pay the bearer” and add the words “ONLY JOKING”. (But you probably shouldn’t actually try this.)

Easier option: My kids tell me that there are websites that will put your face on a realistic banknote and you can choose any major currency and print it out yourself. This is apparently lawful, since your face acts as a legal disclaimer.

I can see an interesting loophole here. What if you are printing US dollars and you actually look like Benjamin Franklin or pounds and you like the Queen or Indian rupees and you like Gandhi or you are printing Hong Kong dollars and you are an actual lion?

Hearing that I was writing about fake money, a colleague sent me a link to a news story from Thailand, about a counterfeiting ring which operated a pizza-style home delivery service. You called a hotline, placed your order and fake cash was delivered to your door. It strikes me that the obvious thing to do would be to set up TWO counterfeit home cash delivery accounts and pay for each delivery with the money faked by the other.

This would be an interesting experiment, for sure, but I have to admit: it’s probably also not in my son’s high school economics textbook.

Incidentally, I have never understood why most children like having their dads help with homework but mine say no thanks and run off. It’s a puzzle.

(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send ideas and comments via his Facebook page.)