Counterfeit 500-yen coins circulating in Tokai

TOKYO —

Depending on exchange rates, the Japanese 500 yen coin stands out as the world’s highest-valued coin in regular use, currently worth roughly double the UK’s two-pound coin.

The 500 yen coins began replacing 500 yen banknotes from 1982, but soon met with problems because of their close similarity in size and weight with South Korea’s 500-won coin (worth about one-tenth its value). The 500-won coins began flooding vending machines in Japan, forcing the mint to redesign its 500 yen coins from 2000. This changeover required large expenditures by existing vending machine operators to recalibrate their machines.

But now another problem has surfaced. Friday (Aug 17) reports that from around late May, the Bank of Japan became aware of large numbers of counterfeit 500-yen coins circulating in the Nagoya area.

“They appear to have surfaced during pickups of the deposits from bank ATMs installed at supermarkets,” says a staff member of a security firm. “After we first noticed them, we notified the police, who took them away as material evidence.”

The phony coins first began appearing around 2010 in the Tokai area. They are described as being extremely well crafted, with the same weight and appearance of authentic coins.

There are nonetheless several points of differentiation, not all of which are visible to the naked eye. The iridescent latent images reflecting “500 en” inside the two large zeros are not visible; the slanted indentations on the circumference of the coins are shallow; and the microscopic letters N and I (part of “NIPPON”) etched inside the large number 5 are not present. (The latter aspect of the coin’s design has not officially been made public by the Japan Mint.)

These phony coins are realistic enough to trick the meters in coin-operated parking lots and bank ATMs.

“The counterfeits this time are dated Heisei 18 (2006),” says Tomohiko Endo, head of the unit entrusted with identifying and dealing with counterfeiters. “Their metal composition is virtually the same as the real coins, and ordinary recognition machines, which can only test their circumference, thickness, weight and magnetic resistance, aren’t able to make a distinction.”

When asked where the coins originated, Endo was uncertain.

“We might get a hint from fake admission tickets to Tokyo Disneyland that were being circulated in 2011,” he says. “The tickets clearly state on their reverse side that they are non-transferable. However, the fake tickets bear some of the Chinese characters used in mainland China that are mixed together with the Japanese writing, which leads us to suspect they were produced in either South Korea or China.

“The counterfeit Disney tickets and counterfeit 500-yen coins also began appearing around the same time, with both centered in the Tokai region,” Endo adds. “A gang centered in Shizuoka Prefecture was previously engaged in counterfeiting of revenue stamps, and while it may be speculation here, it’s possible that some of the people who were involved in that outfit took their technical knowhow and moved abroad.”

No estimates appear to have been issued on the number of counterfeits in circulation or the scale of losses. When Friday’s reporter contacted the Ministry of Finance, which is responsible for the minting of banknotes and coins, for more information, he was informed the ministry could not comment.

A person found guilty of knowingly using counterfeit currency is subject to imprisonment ranging from three years to an indefinite period.

  • -1

    Wakarimasen

    The Korean 500 Won does a good job of impersonating these.

  • 2

    JDB829

    I was in Japan in 1982 when the coin was first issued. We were in Kyoto, on our honeymoon and I remember the taxi drivers making sure we got them in our change. Funny what you remember!

  • 4

    Virtuoso

    I wonder when we'll read an article here about foreign crooks finding a way to counterfeit PASMO or Suica IC-cards. If that happens, Japan will really be in trouble!

  • 4

    gogogo

    A person found guilty of knowingly using counterfeit currency is subject to imprisonment ranging from three years to an indefinite period.

    More than murder in this country!

  • 2

    basroil

    Their metal composition is virtually the same as the real coins, and ordinary recognition machines, which can only test their circumference, thickness, weight and magnetic resistance, aren’t able to make a distinction.

    For that to be true, you can expect a fairly large size refinery with access to pure metals to mix, and some high degree of engineering ability. This is not a backyard deal, and if they can't trace ingot purchases back to specific refineries (you need pure metals after all), we can safely assume that a counterfeiting ring has access to chinese companies.

  • 4

    ebisen

    Had no idea about this, but the 500 Yen coins are absolute works of modern manufacturing and art:

    http://madeira.cc.hokudai.ac.jp/RD/artifex/500YenCoin/index.html

  • -2

    smithinjapan

    I remember when you could use a 500 Won coin in vending machines. Not that I did, of course... ahem.

  • 6

    jomonjeulmun

    However, the fake tickets bear some of the Chinese characters used in mainland China that are mixed together with the Japanese writing, which leads us to suspect they were produced in either South Korea or China.

    I wouldn't be surprised if these fake coins were being distributed by the Chinese. There was a Chinese coin fraud ring that was busted by the Germans in 2011.

    According to German prosecutors, between 2007 and 2010, a ring of Chinese gangsters and flight attendants from the German airline Lufthansa carried out a 6 million euro ($8.5 million) coin fraud. The gang is accused of reassembling 29 tons of scrapped euro coins sold to the Chinese as scrap metal, then carrying the coins back to Germany and exchanging them for new ones at the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank.

    Sounds like something similar might be happening in Japan.

    Their metal composition is virtually the same as the real coins, and ordinary recognition machines, which can only test their circumference, thickness, weight and magnetic resistance, aren't able to make a distinction.

    The police need to look into where coins are sent when they get scrapped.

  • 1

    anglootaku

    Made in China.. a lot of counterfeiting is occurring in the US and Australia by the Chinese

  • 4

    CrazyJoe

    @gogogo

    Under Article 199 of the Japanese penal code , murder is punishable by a death sentence, life imprisonment or a sentence of 5 years or more. No one is sentenced to death for using counterfeit money . So we all know which is more severe.

  • 3

    Herve Nmn L'Eisa

    How about a return to real coins? After all, the current coins have no real value anyway. A 5-gram silver coin would do nicely.

  • 0

    oberst

    @angloo. The article read as followed "The 500 yen coins began replacing 500 yen banknotes from 1982, but soon met with problems because of their close similarity in size and weight with South Korea’s 500-won coin (worth about one-tenth its value)........................." and can you provide some sort of link to back up your claim concerning China's responsibility of counterfeiting in US and Aussieland ?

    "

  • 1

    Herve Nmn L'Eisa

    oberst, maybe angloo was referring to general counterfeiting of various goods in China, and not specifically coins. However, in numismatics it's been well known that there have been many counterfeited numismatic coins that have come from China. Just google it.

  • 0

    TrentonGaijin

    While in Korea in late 90s I got a bunch of W500 coins, but got an attack of conscience & didn't use them in Japan. The only time I remember using one was at City Hall when an employee noticed the W500 coin & told me to use it to pay my bill. Probably still have them somewhere....

  • 0

    ThonTaddeo

    One more coin that's almost exactly the same size of the Y500 coin: the 10-korun brass coin from Slovakia. Worth about 30 euro cents or 35c US when I was there, I brought one back to Japan and then -- it's the same size and almost the same color -- accidentally almost put in into a ticket machine at the airport! I did not want to lose this coin and couldn't help wondering what would have heppened if I'd accidentally inserted it. Could I have called an attendant over and gotten them to open up the machine and hand the coin back to me? Would I be suspected of some kind of fraud? I'm just glad I caught myself before "using" it!

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