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Crime, technology and society by Angus Bancroft
A counterfeit currency vendor on the darknet

A counterfeit currency vendor on the darknet

The aim of this article will be a crime script analysis of a counterfeit currency vendor and their community. Crime script analysis breaks a crime down into its fundamental protocol and generally proposes points where crime control can intervene.

Much research and intervention focuses on electronic money laundering and large scale counterfeiting. This article will examine the micro-process of last mile distribution and the interface between user purchase and practice.

Counterfeit notes posted on ‘Benjamin’s’ thread:

BenjaminsThe real thing from the US Federal Reserve. The US government provides a toolkit for tellers to spot genuine currency, including some tips such as ‘If it has “For Motion Picture Use Only” or the word “Replica” on it, it could be fake.’

The US dollar was originally minted in deference to the Spanish ‘piece of eight’, the silver dollar, and the quarter was in reference to American’s use of the Spanish two-quarter dollar. Spanish and Mexican currency were in widespread use and legal tender until 1857. Political conflicts raged over the metal content of dollar coins, pegging the dollar to the Gold Standard, and recently the value of a fiat currency in comparison to cryptocoins. The global nature of the dollar as a reserve currency makes it tempting to fake and hard to update, as new versions can be seen as untrustworthy.

This post concerns a vendor of counterfeit dollars who sells through a darknet market. ‘Benjamin’ (gender unknown) introduces themselves in what becomes a long thread where buyers return to critique their product. Benjamin responds by defending the product, saying that buyers are using it improperly, and eventually agreeing that the counterfeit notes are not what they were.

Benjamin had a number of buyers who were very positive about the product. As problems emerged they were accused of being sock puppet accounts. These acolytes proposed that if people were finding problems getting the notes accepted they were doing it wrong. They were following the wrong strategy, or were inherently suspicious individuals who invited greater scrutiny. Benjamin endorses these readings:

‘”However, some customers (no need to name, just check my feedback) seem to either have RIDICULOUSLY high standards (are there any higher than these bills?) or plainly wish to sabotage this operation… What a shame.”

In their discussion the buyers mentioned how they slipped the counterfeits into the supply chain. Their varied tactics were aimed at laundering bad notes into good. Buying a small value item with $50 or $100 notes and obtaining change would do that. However there was a risk that cashiers would be more likely to scrutinise or refuse large value notes for small value items. Others worked in businesses with a large cash throughput and were able to swap out notes. There was a sense that these were not major players and would be buying small amounts to use in ways that would not attract attention.

Buyers put forward justificatory strategies for using counterfeit currency. There was a big picture political justification in terms of banker and government greed. Then there were micro-justifications that the fraud was harmless and that cashiers would not be punished for accepting the notes.

A crime script analysis of the process of using the currency would look like this, separated into the currency manufacturer and the final end point user of the notes:

Producer User Control condition
Preparation Template Inside post as cashier/legit buyer
Entry Printing Choose high traffic setting
Precondition Bulk production Surveil shop Shipping
Instrumental (contextual) precondition Microprinting Smell Select/stealth person/car

Select young cashier/busy time

Instrumental initiation Test/prepare market Identify high value/good return good Restrict note size Cashless economy
Instrumental actualisation Select consumer Recycle bad product into good notes Publicise fake notes
Continuation After sales support Transfer legit cash
Post condition Manage reputation Select new location/time
Exit/reset Cash out/repost Return to producer Trust disruption operations

The control condition refers to possible points for crime control intervention.

A further analysis is invited which treats the counterfeit notes as part of an actor-network. In this perspective the discourse around it, the production and distribution system, is part of a set of practices that produce the product as a workable entity.


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