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Got change for a five? Yup

The colorful new bill is easy on the eyes but -- with its enhanced security features -- hard on counterfeiters.

March 14, 2008|Ben DuBose | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Sprinkled with pastel colors and armed with new features to thwart counterfeiters, the latest version of the $5 bill went into circulation Thursday with a gift-shop purchase at President Lincoln's newly renovated summer cottage at the Soldiers' Home.

The portrait of Abraham Lincoln remains front and center on the new bill, and the image of the Lincoln Memorial is still on the back. To honor the 16th president, Federal Reserve Board Assistant Director Michael J. Lambert undertook the first transaction by buying a book of Lincoln's speeches for $2.88.

"We must address counterfeit threats with effective designs for our bills that include easy-to-use security features," Lambert said. "The features help ensure we stay ahead of counterfeiters and protect your hard-earned money."

For the next three weeks, any commercial bank, savings and loan or credit union that requests $5 bills from a Federal Reserve office will have its order filled exclusively with the new designs. This ensures that the new currency will make its way into the mainstream "almost immediately," Lambert said.

Officials said the Federal Reserve would release about 212 million of the new bills in the next three weeks, adding to the nearly 2 billion $5 bills already in circulation. Lambert said the government has already worked with manufacturers to ensure that vending machines -- among the most common uses for $5 bills -- are adjusted to accept the new bills.

The new currency displays several aesthetic changes.

The center of the bill features a light purple that fades into gray at the bill's edges. Purple stars surround Lincoln's head, replacing the old border. On the back, a large 5 is printed in the lower right-hand corner in high-contrast purple ink. A series of the numerals 05 is printed in small yellow type to the left of the portrait on the front and to the right of the Lincoln Memorial on the back.

The color changes were made primarily to help the visually impaired.

The more important security measures, however, include subtle changes to watermarks and the bill's security thread. One new watermark includes a large 5 to the right of Lincoln's portrait, replacing a watermark of Lincoln. The other watermark is larger and to the left of the portrait, containing a column of three small 5s.

The watermarks are a part of the bill's paper itself and can be seen from both sides.

The security thread was moved from the left of the portrait to the right. It contains the letters USA followed by the number 5 and, like the watermarks, is embedded in the bill and visible from both sides. The thread glows blue when held under ultraviolet light.

"What this design is screaming out to you is, 'I'm a 5! I'm a 5!' " said Larry R. Felix, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. "It's really done so that users can be assured that they have a $5 bill, and we think that's critical."

The Treasury began introducing redesigned currency in 2003, starting with the $20 bill. A new $10 bill was introduced in 2004, followed by the redesigned $50 bill in 2006. There were no plans to upgrade the $5 bill until officials discovered that counterfeiters were bleaching them and printing $100 bills on the paper because the security thread was in the same spot on both. In addition, both bills contained a portrait watermark in the same spot, making them difficult to distinguish.

U.S. Treasurer Anna Escobedo Cabral said the public needs to be aware of the differences in the bills. "The public education campaign is very important, because essentially our first and best line of defense against counterfeiters is a well-educated public," she said.

In 2007, about $61.4 million in counterfeit currency circulated among the $770 billion in U.S. notes worldwide.

Next in line for a face-lift is the $100 bill, though a release date has not been set.

Older-design $5 bills will retain their full value.

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ben.dubose@latimes.com

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