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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bogus dollars and forged finnmarks flood CIS

With rubles rendered nearly valueless by runaway inflation, Muscovites are learning that dollars too may not be worth the paper they're printed on. In recent months, stores and consumers alike have encountered a new phenomenon: counterfeit currency.

Hurrying to serve a long line of diners a cashier at Pizza Hut recently accepted a 1, 000 deutschmark note as payment for a long-overdue bill from a steady customer. But the banknote, worth about $700, turned out to be counterfeit. and under Pizza Hut policy, the unwitting cashier had to pay for the loss.

Boris Panken, restaurant manager of Pizza Hut on Kutuzovsky Prospect said the 1, 000 deutschmark bill was the largest counterfeit note the restaurant has accepted. But he said attempts to use counterfeit bills are on the increase. The most common counterfeit currency comes in the form of small U. S. notes, such as $20 bills, he said. Although Pizza Hut has installed machines to detect counterfeit cash and has trained staff to spot them, Panken said bogus bills slip through "about once a month".

Despite the growing number of domestically-produced counterfeit bills, Medvedev says that most in circulation are imported, mainly from European countries, the Middle East and Africa. These notes are of higher quality, Medvedev says: Some cannot be detected even by the special equipment many hard currency shops and banks have installed.

While Soviet counterfeiters once busied themselves with making fake rubles, these days they aspire to perfect the art of the bogus dollar. The Russian : Ministry of Internal Affairs intercepts over 20 forged dollar bills daily in the Commonwealth of Independent States, but only one or two bogus rubles, according to counterfeit specialists at the ministry. Ministry officials say they received at least 80 requests to examine suspected counterfeit-bills during the first two months of 1992, which they call a significant increase over last year.

Although "things have been rather quiet on the greenback front" in the past few months at the Irish House and bar, manager Pat Coffey said store clerks recently nabbed a European shopper trying to use a 50-Finnmark note tampered to look like 500 finnmarks. The brownish-colored fake 500 had been glued to a 50-finnmark bill, Coffey said. To discourage acceptance of counterfeit bills, which are generally in large denominations, the store has a limited-change policy.

As the hard currency economy expands, citizens of the C. I. S. are learning to recognize a genuine dollar the hard way, says Vladimir Medvedev, the ministry's senior expert criminologist. Included in bis list of memorable inci-dents: An employee of a Moscow film studio managed to sell counterfeit money used for a movie shoot to unsuspecting customers. A visitor to Ptichy Rynok, the pet market, bought what he thought was a $20 bill only to learn later that the suspiciously large bank-note was actually a cut-out from a poster for the 200th anniversary of the United States.

Within the former Soviet Union, the main suppliers of counterfeit American money are the Baltic States, Ukraine, Byelarus and Russia, says Medvedev. In 1986, a Leningrad group, "Baula", forged up to 800 $20 bank notes using printing plates they had made themselves. and a man identified as Faliyantz printed $100 bills over a peri-od of two years at a state printing house, selling them to taxi drivers.

The most popular form of counter-feiting in the C. I. S. now is tampering with bank notes to increase their value, Medvedev says. Quick and dirty, this practice is also cheap, requiring only a sharp blade, Indian ink, and black and green pens. Most common is the modification of $1 bills to make them $100s with only a change of numbers. But some counterfeiters have also managed to change the word "one" to "U. S. A". and the names of U. S. presidents -- Ulysses Grant replaces George Washington, for example -- in the delicate operation of turning a $1 bill into a $50.

The growing wave of hard currency forgery is unlikely to decline soon, Medvedev says. In a country suffering tremendous economic hardships, counterfeiting, at least for now, is relatively profitable and safe, despite fairly strict laws. Officially, a convicted counterfeiter can be sentenced to death, but usually offenders get a 5-6-year jail term, Medvedev said.