Trivial fun with Greenbacks A brief look at U.S. counterfeiting Counterfeiting money has a history as long as money has been used. Fooling with imitations was treasonous and punishable by death at one point in history. During the American revolution, the British pulled a successful swifty by counterfeiting Yankee currency and circulating it in such large amounts that the real thing became worthless. More than one-third of American currency was fake during the Civil War. At the time, operating a bank was literally a licence to print money. There were 1,600 of them then... and they all printed their own stuff, creating 7,000 varieties of bank notes. The feds soon wised up and created a national currency in 1863, but counterfeiting of these items became so extensive, the government created the U.S. Secret Service to fight back. Yes, the gang that's supposed to protect the U.S. president started life as an anti-counterfeiting squad. Today, counterfeiting is a low-level scam in the great scheme of criminal things. But it still hurts if you're a retailer stuck with a funny $50.