You’ve come a long way, Benjamin
Ben Franklin apparently whets the criminal appetite. With his mug beaming from the front of every $100 bill, Franklin, who owned a printing company, brought business savvy to currency manufacturing. But counterfeiters keep trying.
On June 14, two men from Vallejo were arrested at Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park after they allegedly attempted to use counterfeit $100 bills. Police found almost $36,000 of the ersatz bills in the suspects' car.
Police arrested Rodney Short, 49, and Johnny Winn, 52, after finding copious amounts of cash in their possession. The banknotes were manufactured to look like a 'much older version of the $100 bill than is currently issued by the government,' the Sonoma County sheriff said.
Cash for cannabis
Coincidentally, a building just six miles north of the Graton casino houses Viavi Solutions, a technology business that works closely with the U.S. government as well as dozens of other countries to defeat counterfeiters. The security technology will be increasingly important in the North Bay, where cannabis businesses run largely on cash because pot remains a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
CannaCraft, the largest business in Santa Rosa's CannaCom Valley with annual revenue of nearly $50 million, operates on cash. 'It's a pain, a lot of work to count out everybody's paycheck, pay all the bills,' said co-founder Dennis Hunter. Some vendors 'don't want to take cash. You are in little predicaments and have to figure out ways to deal with' them. Several employees are needed just to manage the cash.
Giffen Avenue Property, CannaCraft's sister company, submitted applications to Santa Rosa for indoor cultivation in about 70,000 square feet, and plans to more than triple its business. The company pays income taxes to the IRS all in cash. 'We go in there with a box of money,' Hunter said. 'For three and a half hours, they count it by hand. They have no money counters.'
Some government agencies and cannabis businesses are considering use of digital smart-safes to count cash faster and rapidly validate the authenticity of each bill to detect counterfeits.
Viavi Solutions fights counterfeiters
In 1981, Santa Rosa-based Optical Coating Laboratory Inc. formed a Flex Products division, which created a roll coater for color-shifting pigments. The technology enabled governments worldwide to adopt anti-counterfeiting measures for currencies that use special pigments.
OCLI was acquired in 2000 by JDSU. The company name changed to Viavi Solutions in 2015. Anti-counterfeiting remains a focus of Viavi Solutions, which had 2016 revenue of $906 million. Roughly $200 million of that revenue is from the division that makes color-shifting-pigments. Much of the pigment is made in Santa Rosa; the company has another plant in China.
The technology, such as Viavi's ChromaFlair pigment, can be used by businesses to make it difficult to knock off counterfeit products. Plastic, textiles, packaging, and water-based metallic paints and coatings use technology that traps layered pigment flakes inside a shell of silicon dioxide. When a product is viewed from different angles, the color changes. The pigment is available in colors including gold-silver, red-gold, blue-red, green-purple and silver-green.
In addition to color-shifting pigments, the company manufactures taggant material used in intaglio (engraving), screen, gravure (image engraved on cylinder) or offset-type inks. Taggants have a defined particle shape and carry an image of text of microscopic proportions.
Taggants — also called 'charms' or micro-flakes — are minuscule, barely three times the size of a red blood cell. Under a microscope, taggants look a bit like the charms found on bracelets.
On taggants a company can print its logo or graphics. Taggants then get added to ink used to print documents, packages or labels. Graphic design is unaffected, but a product can quickly be authenticated with a low-cost microscope of 200x to 400x magnification. Such security measures are called covert features.
'In the work we do, there's a lot of math, a lot of physics,' said Kees-Jan Delst, security-product-line manager for Viavi Solutions. Delst has a background in data encryption. 'It's a very attractive business for us,' he said. 'Hardly anyone in the world does what we do,' though other products achieve similar security functions.
'I have never seen an attempt at knocking off' the taggant technology, Delst said. The company started producing taggants in 2008. 'Once there's that much scrutiny, a counterfeiter knows it's not going to go well for them,' he said.