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10 Most Famous Counterfeiting Scandals

The crime of counterfeiting is probably as old as money itself, and kings have often dealt very harshly with its perpetrators. The counterfeiting of coins or ‘coining’ used to be dealt with as a form of treason. As a result, gruesome punishments for coining in England have included being hung drawn and quartered and being burnt at the stake. In America, counterfeiting also used to be punishable by death. Bank notes printed by Benjamin Franklin often bore the phrase ‘to counterfeit is death.’ Bearing in mind that counterfeiting requires a great deal of audacity, here are the 10 most famous counterfeiting scandals throughout history, in chronological order.

1 Mary Butterworth was a counterfeiter in colonial America. She started her counterfeiting operation in 1716 and organised it into a cottage industry, sternly overseeing the work of the entire family. Authorities became suspicious of Butterworth when they noticed unexpected changes in the colonial economy and, amidst a flurry of rumours about the family, her husband John purchased an expensive new home.

2 The unfortunate Georgian counterfeiter Catherine Murphy was convicted of coining in 1789 and was the last woman to suffer execution by burning in England. Her co-defendants, including her husband, were executed at the same time by hanging, but as a woman the law provided that she should be burnt at the stake. Burning as a method of execution was abolished the following year.

3 At the start of the American Civil War Samuel C. Upham began marketing patriotic items to support the Union, and novelty items mocking the Confederacy. In February 1862 he acquired a Confederate bank note and quickly started producing novelty counterfeit notes. But cotton smugglers in the south quickly began buying up the bogus bills and flooding the Confederate economy with them. Since his death many of Upham's counterfeit items have become valuable collector's items.

4 Stephen Jory – Often described as a ‘lovable rogue’, is Great Britain's most renowned counterfeiter. Born in Hackney in 1949 and brought up in north London, Jory left his grammar school and entered the criminal fraternity, he said, through his ‘own choice’. Jory started off selling cheap perfume in designer bottles and later established his own illegal printing operation, producing and distributing an estimated five billion pounds in counterfeit money throughout the United Kingdom. His counterfeit notes were so convincing that they fooled UV counterfeit detectors. Jory died on May 5 2006.

5 During World War II, the Nazis forced Jewish artists in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp to forge British pounds and American dollars. The quality of the counterfeiting was very good, but the Germans could not put their plan into action and were forced to dump the bills into a lake.

6 Frank William Abagnale Jr worked under 8 identities during the 1960s, including his first as Pan American Airlines Pilot Frank Williams, in over 5 years, passing over $2.5 million in counterfeit cheques in over 26 countries and all 50 states. He was arrested in France at an Air France ticket counter when an agent recognized his face from a wanted poster. In the movie based on his life, ‘Catch Me if You Can’, Abagnale made a cameo appearance as a French policeman.

7 Anatasios Arnaouti is a criminal from Manchester who led one of the most ambitious forgery operations in history before he and his accomplices were jailed in 2005. The total amount of counterfeit money they produced is unknown as their printing operation had been in production for several years, and was capable of producing tens of thousands of counterfeit notes each day. The extent of the crime was considered so severe that it could have compromised the UK and US economies.

8 In 2004, French police seized fake 10 euro and 20 euro counterfeit bank notes worth a total of around €1.8 million from two laboratories and estimated that 145,000 counterfeit notes had already entered circulation.

9 In 2006, a Pakistani government printing press in the city of Quetta was accused of churning out large quantities of counterfeit Indian bank notes. The Times of India reported this scandal, based on Central Bureau of Intelligence investigation. The money was allegedly used to fund terrorist activities inside India, the recent blasts in Mumbai being funded using this fake currency.

10 Today the finest counterfeit notes are claimed to be US dollar bills produced in North Korea, called ‘Superdollars’ because of their high quality. The US government believes they have been circulating since the late 1980s and that they serve two purposes: as a source of income and to undermine the US economy.

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