THE USELESS FIVER FIASCO; New Banknotes Are the Most High-Tech and Forgery-Proof in History. There's Just One Problem, the Serial Numbers Rub Off

Article excerpt

Byline: NEIL SEARS

DISTRIBUTION of the new [pound]5 note was halted by the Bank of England yesterday because the serial numbers can be rubbed off.

When the redesigned fivers were launched last week they were hailed as the most sophisticated in history - featuring anti- counterfeiting features to baffle the most feared forgers in the world.

They were also said to be extremely cost effective - so hard-wearing that they would be in circulation for two years, more than twice as long as their predecessors.

But, after just one week, the Bank's confidence in the notes has been shaken and the order has gone out to High Street banks that the new-issue fivers must be kept in their vaults.

The move came after those using the money discovered the serial numbers could be removed if the note was rubbed hard.

As the use of serial numbers to identify individual notes is among the most basic of security measures, the Bank's boasts of sophistication were left sounding rather hollow.

In fact, it seems that the desire for cost effectiveness may have taken precedence over the need to confuse counterfeiters, with the ink simply failing to stick properly to the special paper.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Bank of England admitted it had asked High Street banks and the Post Office to stop issuing the new [pound]5 notes, which carry a picture of 19th century prison reformer Elizabeth Fry.

The spokesman said it had received around 'half a dozen' calls from the public at the end of last week relating to the disappearing serial numbers.

Astonishingly, tests it has conducted since - and had apparently not carried out before - showed that on some notes it was possible to remove both of the serial numbers if the note was rubbed hard.

The spokesman said: 'As a precautionary measure, we have this afternoon asked the banks and the Post Office to suspend further issuance of the new [pound]5 note, while we carry out further tests and investigative work into what might have caused the fault and how widespread the problem is.' Around 10million new notes, printed at the Bank's printing works in Debden, Essex, have already gone out to bank and Post Office branches.

The authorities hope a ' substantial proportion' of the cash is still there and has not been issued to the public.

The Bank's spokesman said: 'There are around 200million [pound]5 notes of the George Stephenson design in circulation, which should provide ample supply for the time being. …