A Hewlett-Packard 3-in-1 inkjet printer was essentially all it took for a working mom in Virginia to become a counterfeiter. Bloomberg takes a look at the case of Tarshema Brice, a 34-year-old hairstylist and janitor in Richmond who pleaded guilty last month to creating as much as $20,000 in phony bills over a two-year span. She "was raising six children on her own with modest income and was filling the gaps by making counterfeit money," specifically $50 and $100 bills, says her lawyer. She's also "emblematic" of something much larger, per Bloomberg: how easy digital technology has made it to churn out fake bills. You used to need a printing press; but in just 20 years, the percentage of such bills made on digital or laser printers and recovered by the feds has swelled from 1% to almost 60%.
The secret to Brice’s success was that she started with real currency—watermarked $5 bills. But from there, her tools were pretty ordinary ones. She used Purple Power degreaser, heated the bills in a microwave, got the ink off with a toothbrush, then ran the paper through her printer, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in December. The results of Brice’s work fooled local merchants and their counterfeit detection pens, although the watermark of Lincoln was incorrect for the larger bills. She was caught by police with a fake bill last year and arrested along with three accomplices in September. As for the modest size of their scheme, an agent notes that technology has stripped away the need to create fake millions. "Depending on the technology you are using, you could just print up some [money] to go out on a Friday night." (Read more counterfeiting stories.)