False notes at Multibanco machines

PORTUGAL’S POLICE are receiving an increasing number of complaints concerning false bank notes, which customers claim they have unwittingly withdrawn from Multibanco machines.

The latest spate of complaints relates to 50 euro notes, which are often only identified as being false when customers attempt to make a purchase in a shop. The latest incident to catch the attention of the country’s press is a case said to have occurred in the Restelo area of Lisbon, on June 1.

“There are lots of people who complain to police that they have received counterfeit notes from the Mulitbanco system. There are cases in which the validity of the claim is considered to be dubious, however, there are other instances when there is no reason to disbelieve that the complaint is genuine,” says Manuela Santos, co-ordinator of the Secção Central de Investigação de Moeda Falsa (SCIMF) da Polícia Judiciária, the central police department for the investigation of counterfeit money, which is beginning to look at the phenomenon more closely.

“It is not the case that if a note is paler than another, then it is likely to be false,” says Santos. This, she believes, is because the euro notes have a high percentage of cotton content, which makes it easy for them to lose their colour. Manuela Santos also considers that the checking devices in shops are “not 100 per cent reliable. Only the Laboratório da Polícia Científica (LPC), the police scientific laboratory, can ascertain without error if a note is false or genuine”.

Who is to blame for the problem?

Manuela Santos considers that “in light of the quantity of money being handled, the Multibanco system does not have sufficient controls in place”.

The Sociedade Interbancária de Serviços (SIBS) is in charge of managing the Multibanco system, but, in most cases, the cash machines are the property of banks and they are re-stocked with cash by bank staff. Those machines not situated at bank branches are refilled by security personnel, who are subcontracted by the financial institutions.

Nobody wants to take responsibility. Banks say that everything is carefully checked and that it is impossible that the note could have come from them. Meanwhile, if a case is reported to the police, the authorities will confiscate the note, so that it can be investigated. Unsurprisingly, this makes it tempting for the bearer to attempt to pass it on to someone else.

SIBS is laying the blame at the door of the country’s banks, while many banks are denying all knowledge of the existence of a problem. “The crime of issuing counterfeit money is difficult to prove and, until now, it has not been possible to establish any link between bank employees and false notes,” says Santos. Police believe the only answer is to reinforce control measures to avoid new cases happening.