Economic crisis: someone's made a mint

Yet more monetary woes - the number of fake £1 coins in circulation has doubled in the last five years.

by
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Random sampling tests carried out earlier this year by the Royal Mint showed that approximately 2% of pound coins are fake. That's up from 1% five years ago, and means one in every 50 pound coins in circulation may well be counterfeit. In other words, that precious cash you're busy stashing under the mattress as you watch the banks collapse may not even be real.

Such forgeries are relatively easy to detect - the writing on the edge may be indistinct or in the wrong font, the pattern on the reverse is frequently upside down, and they often don't work in vending machines. (And if the Queen is pictured smoking a pipe, that's a dead giveaway).

The sheer number may cause problems for small traders who still deal a lot in cash. Especially at a time when people are apparently leaving the plastic at home in favour of hard currency (to stop them having a rush of shoppers' abandon and blowing £300 when they'd only planned to spend £10).

The Royal Mint maintains that what's happening here is a relatively small problem given the scale of our monetary system, but other experts have likened this level of forgery to similar cases in other economies where people eventually lost confidence in coins. Coin consultant Robert Matthews, formerly the Queen's Assay master, said this is exactly what happened to the South African 5 Rand coin in 2004. The coin eventually had to be redesigned and re-circulated.

Perhaps the tougher economic climate has bred a new adage: you have to make money to make money. When we're apparently paying the price for living so long beyond our means, we face a choice - to cut spending or increase your means. Some people, it seems, have hit a novel way of doing the latter.

At a time when card and online fraud is on the up, and cheques are on the way out, we may be forced back to alternative fiscal methods. Could bartering make a comeback? While it has been reported in certain circles - ‘I'll give you three free range eggs for some of your spelt loaf' - it may not be easy for everyone. Try, for example, buying your lottery ticket with derivatives...

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Finance Retail

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