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Even Counterfeiting is Work

Micah and I watched “Masterminds” last night. It’s a show about people who brilliantly broke the law. Of course, there’s the important message that jail sucks and yes even brilliant people get caught.

The story was about a young man who’d figured out how to counterfeit Canadian hundred dollar bills. Apparently there are crazy security features but he managed to bypass all of them.

Then he and his crew started printing them in bulk–eventually selling them through a fence (handy, so that all their money wouldn’t be counterfeit).

One of the fascinating parts of this story was how much he and the guys ended up working. He said it was a lot of work and they got obsessed with it (and greedy). So while they were making thousands of dollars a day (literally) they were spending hours a day, sometimes even more than 10, working on it. Of course, they also spent time using their money and living it up.

I think it’s kind of ironic. While they didn’t earn that money legitimately, they certainly “earned” it through all the work they put in.

Even printing your own money requires a lot of hard work. Sorry, there’s still no way to get rich quick.


Early Retirement Extreme January 26, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Check out Freakanomics. It’s interesting to see criminal activities described in economic terms. I guess the lesson here is still “don’t lose money”, I mean “don’t get caught” 🙂

Minimum Wage January 26, 2008 at 1:05 pm

A guy named Henning counterfeited approx a half million 1944 nickels.

Normally, a fake nickel wouldn’t get noticed unless there were something obviously unusual like appearance, composition, or weight.

Henning’s downfall was that wartime nickels were made with a large mintmark on the reverse, and he neglected this obvious feature. (Also, these wartime nickels were made of an odd alloy containing 35 percent silver – I’m not sure but I think his nickels were made of the normal copper-nickel alloy.)

It has been estimated that approx 100,000 of these fakes reached circulation, and that an additional 400,000 were dumped into a creek (of which 14,000 were recovered) and a river.

Surviving examples today are collectible items and occasionally appear at coin shows and at online auctions.

plonkee January 26, 2008 at 1:12 pm

Lesson in being a criminal genuis no.1 – Don’t get so greedy that you end up working harder than people do in real jobs.

Hilda January 26, 2008 at 1:44 pm

What gets me is that these criminals are so smart if only they put in the same amount of time and effort in doing legal activities, they probably would have succeeded just the same without the risk of going to jail.

RacerX January 26, 2008 at 1:59 pm

Although the facts were mangled, American Gangster was interesting from a Business perspective as well.

Frank Lucas grew $250K into $125MM+ in less than ten years…

Catherine Lawson January 26, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Mrs M – how long did they get away with it? It seems that many of these criminals get caught because they get too greedy and actually steal more than they first intended.

mrsmicah January 26, 2008 at 2:49 pm

I think they got away with it for well over a year. 2-3 perhaps?

The money was actually so good that it passed all the normal tests. The only reason they lost out was when one of them (the guy who designed the bills) pimped his new car with cash but used some counterfeits with the same serial number. The guy got suspicious and called the police about it.

Since he’d done it with so much cash in hundreds, police started keeping tabs on him and his friends–watching their spending patterns and that kind of thing.

Simple Tam January 26, 2008 at 4:41 pm

@ Early Retirement Extreme. Freakonomics is indeed a good book. I do agree that the lesson is “don’t lose money”. But “Don’t get caught” ? There are plenty of ways to get rich legally, just by being smart and learning to work the system. A book I like but do not totally agree with is Rich Dad Poor Dad. It gives us a glimpse of this.

Kiran January 26, 2008 at 7:06 pm

A life of crime is probably a lot harder than a normal life. You have to be careful about spending your ill gotten gains. You have to watch your back lest you get shot. Changing careers is difficult. Not being able to trust your friends and colleagues.

Thats why I guess criminals are either desperate people, or people who want to live wealthy lives, or people who want to be unimaginably rich (think Enron guys). If a criminal’s reward was a nice blue collar paycheck, or even a low-end college graduate salary, they would never try it. Why bother being a counterfeiter if you are only going to be able to spend 50 to 60 thousand a year. Living on the up and up can get you there. If you are going to live a life of crime, it so high risk it requires a high reward , the quarter of a million a year lifestyle.

Minimum Wage January 26, 2008 at 7:18 pm

>i?But “Don’t get caught” ? There are plenty of ways to get rich legally, just by being smart and learning to work the system.

You’d be surprised how many smart people are not rich.

Andrew Stevens January 26, 2008 at 7:21 pm

Minimum Wage, it is certainly true that lots of smart people aren’t rich. In fact, intelligence doesn’t correlate terribly strongly with wealth (though it does correlate pretty well with income). Simple Tarn’s formulation isn’t bad, but I would put more emphasis on “learning to work the system” rather than “being smart.” In particular, it is behaviors, discipline, ability to defer gratification, etc. which have far more effect on one’s wealth than intelligence.

Frugal Bachelor January 26, 2008 at 9:28 pm

In a previous life, I used to hang in the company of international drug traffickers, particularly the “look-outs”, the guys who monitored the streets and alerted the insiders whenever rival cartels or government authorities were approaching their turf. These guys were the hardest working people I have ever known in my life, and worked 24-36 hours straight without sleeping. Typically went from nothing to living in a huge house and driving an Escalade in a matter of months.

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