ECB pulls millions in counterfeit euro notes from circulation

30 Jan 17

The eurozone confiscated around €8.6m worth of counterfeit €500 bank notes in the last six months of 2016, according to data published last week by the European Central Bank.


Due to their being favoured by criminals, the ECB is preparing to halt production of the notes altogether by 2018. While making up just under 5% of the 353,000 fraudulent bills pulled from circulation in the second half of 2016, together the 17,000 €500 notes had the highest value of any of the notes withdrawn.

The total value of the counterfeit notes withdrawn €22.8m, of which €8.6m was made up €500 notes.

In comparison, the much more common €20 and €50 bills together made up more than 80% of all the notes confiscated during the period, but in total represented values of approximately €2.7m and €7.5m respectively.

Following a European Commission inquiry into how €500 notes are used, the ECB announced it would no longer produce the notes starting at the end of 2018 because of concerns they facilitate illicit activities.

The bank said the notes already in circulation will remain legal tender and always retain their value. Production of €500 notes will be timed to coincide with the introduction of new €100 and €200 notes.

The €100 bill was also one of the biggest sources of counterfeit funds in terms of value, making up around €3.4m of all the notes confiscated in the second half of 2016.

Just over €423,600 worth of €200 notes were confiscated, along with around €15,800 worth of €5 bills and €130,600 worth of €10 bills.

In total, this marked a decline in the number of fraudulent notes withdrawn, down from 445,000 in the second half of 2015 and 507,000 in the second half of 2014.

With regards to €500 notes in particular however, also known as “Bin Ladens”, far more were found in circulation in the last six months of 2016 than in the same period in the two years prior.

Only 2,535 bank notes were pulled from circulation in the last half of 2014 and 5,785 in the last half of 2015, compared to more than 17,000 confiscated in the final six months of last year.

Meanwhile, the proportion of counterfeit €20 notes decreased and that of €50 notes increased.

The vast majority – 98% - of counterfeit notes were found within euro area countries. Only 1.3% were found in European Union member states that do not use the euro, and less than 0.7% were found in other parts of the world.

The ECB introduced a new €50 note, designed to improve security, last summer, while a new €20 note was introduced in 2015. 

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