Most of us have at some time passed on a fake bill without realizing it. Counterfeit notes are regularly handed from one person to the next until someone spots the fake. Both the police and the European Central Bank have noted a steady increase in the number of forged bills in circulation. In the second half of 2009, the number of counterfeit notes confiscated in the European Union rose by 8 percent relative to the previous six months. Of a total of some 12.8 million banknotes in circulation in Europe, 447,000 fake bills were confiscated. Six months earlier there had been an increase of 17 percent. The denominations most frequently forged in Europe are 20-euro bills (47 percent), 50 euros (39 percent) and 100 euros (11 percent). In Greece the denomination most frequently found to be faked is the 50-euro bill. Greek police officials say that while few criminal cases so far involve counterfeit money, they are becoming more common due to the economic crunch. On January 20, two Albanians were arrested in Attica after attempting to sell 425 fake 20-euro bills for 2,500 euros. The perpetrators had been dealing in forged bills for at least six months. The police have been working with their counterparts in other countries to track down their suppliers. Last September, police found a stack of 2,500 fake 20-euro bills on the Greek border with Bulgaria. They say most counterfeit money found in Greece has been produced in Bulgaria. Major counterfeiting rings in Italy release their fake bills in other countries. Large stores use electronic devices to check bills, which helps limit the number of fakes in circulation, but many escape scrutiny in places where money is changed quickly, such as taxis and kiosks. «If people learn to check three or four points, they’ll be safe,» Nikos Skartsis, head of the police’s counterfeit squad, told Kathimerini. Tips to distinguish genuine from fake notes You can identify genuine bills by their texture, color and certain distinguishing marks. The key to avoiding problems with counterfeit banknotes lies in close observation and being very familiar with the genuine article.Here are some tips from the website of the European Central Bank, showing how to check some of the security features that have been incorporated into euro banknotes. Always check several features, advises the ECB. It only takes a few seconds to check a banknote. Just feel it, look at it and tilt it. Feel the raised print: Special printing processes give banknotes their unique feel. Look at the banknote and hold it up against the light: The watermark, the security thread and the see-through number will then be visible. All three features can be seen from the front and back of genuine banknotes. Tilt the banknote: On the front, you can see the shifting image on the hologram. On the back, you can see the glossy stripe (on 5-, 10- and 20-euro banknotes) or the color-changing number (on 50-, 100-, 200- and 500-euro notes). An age-old battle against the forgers Forgers have been with us ever since coins were introduced in antiquity. Their ever-improving skill at counterfeiting has forced governments to invest in security measures and to track down the perpetrators. It has always been a race between the authorities who create ever more complex coins and notes and those who try to copy them. Matters changed radically in Greece when it joined the eurozone. Prior to that, it was mainly locals who forged drachma bills, as the currency had very limited circulation abroad, apart from in a few Balkan countries. The euro, by contrast, is an international currency with many security features which make it both hard to counterfeit and a major challenge to forgers around the world.