Counterfeit $20 Bills With 'Chinese Writing' Are Fooling New Brunswickers

This whole situation has shades of a Banksy stunt from the early 2000s but the real story behind the bills may be way less sexy.
Mack Lamoureux
Toronto, CA
August 30, 2017, 7:09pm
Photo via RCMP

New Brunswick RCMP are reminding people that, you know… Canadian money doesn't have "Chinese" characters in it.

Which is a weird thing for a police department to have to do.

It comes after a few counterfeit $20 bills turned up in stores and restaurants around the Campbellton, NB, area. In a press release put out by the New Brunswick RCMP, they warn people in the area "to be aware of counterfeit money" and that the "bills are distinct in that they have Chinese writing on them."


While the inclusion of the writing is weird in and of itself, perhaps the weirdest thing about this whole situation is the fact that, overall, they're not bad counterfeits.

"These aren't the worst I've seen, I've seen some pretty bad ones that were meant to be counterfeit but they're very, very poor quality. So poor quality that you can see the laser printing," Cpl. Raphael Vezina of the RCMP told VICE. "The bills look pretty much like a $20 bill—the older ones not the polymer ones—but on top of it, it's printed with Chinese writing."

"They seem fairly real but it's that Chinese writing on it that makes it weird."

This isn't even the first time these bills have popped up in the area; Vezina said that about a year ago they were discovered in Halifax. He added that they don't have any suspects in the case so far but that the bills have been sent to a counterfeit unit in Ottawa.

The whole situation has shades of an art project gone that went awry in the UK over a decade ago. In 2004, famous graffiti artist Banksy made up a bunch of fake £10 notes with a picture of Princess Diana on them instead of the Queen—they also had Banksy of England on them instead of Bank of England.

A bunch of these notes were tossed into a crowd who then used them as real currency—after realizing that these could pass as real money, Banksy stopped distributing them. In an odd turn, people are now making counterfeits of these counterfeits and selling them to art collectors. Vezina, while not mentioning an art project or anything of that nature, did say that he has his suspicions that these bills weren't meant to be used as counterfeits.


"Obviously it's not a purposely made for counterfeit because why would you print the Chinese writing on it, or that's my opinion on it anyway," he said. "If you really want to make it look 100% real, you don't put that on it."

"So what's the purpose of that bill and who printed it? Personally I don't have a clue."

Counterfeiting a bill isn't easy, and to make something remotely passable in the Great White North you need to bypass several measures put in by the Bank of Canada. So someone put in serious effort to make these bills as realistic as possible and then ruin go onto ruin them with the writing. That said, Vezina pointed out that even with the most obvious fake if someone is busy, it is still possible to fool them—which happened several times in Campbellton.

"If I gave it to you, and you look at it, you know right away it's counterfeit, now if I gave it to you and you're in a rush and don't really look at it, you could take it,"said Vezina.

"That's the cause we have so far with store clerks and in restaurants, they probably didn't even look at them and then eventually they count their cash and realize there is fake bills in there."


However, it seems that the explanation behind this may be much less sexy than an art stunt. Recently in Australia, fake $100 notes with similar writing which are apparently used to train Chinese bank tellers were used to buy buy cigarettes and alcohol. The markings, which are almost identical to the ones on the Canadian bills, translate to "training Money. SAMPLE. Only for practice. Circulation Forbidden."

"These notes are the kind that are available quite commonly over eBay," Detective Senior Sergeant Glenn Leafe told ABC News in May.

"They are training notes. They're not a counterfeit currency so to speak but they are something that can be used to deceive store owners."

This story has been updated to include the information about the Australian bank notes.

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