How do toy banknotes get past cashiers?

Toy 100 euro note Image copyright ELC
Image caption The toy note...

Police in Northern Ireland are searching for a suspected fraudster after a sandwich shop in Newry accepted a toy 100-euro note. It seems like a silly mistake by the member of staff, but was it a forgivable one, asks Justin Parkinson.

The note, produced by the Early Learning Centre, features a picture of a "Georgian doll's house" on one side and the letters "ELC" on the other, and a small ELC motif instead of the European Union's flag. Reports have contained much mirth over the shop assistant or shopkeeper's apparent gullibility.

But could someone using toy money have achieved the same deception if offering pounds instead of euros?

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption ... and the real thing

"The Bank of England does not give authority for any reproductions in the form of a novelty banknote (eg, one where a celebrity or other images are shown on a banknote or other such changes)," it says in its guidelines. "This is because there have been instances of notes altered in this way being accepted as genuine banknotes by unsuspecting members of the public."

The Bank owns the copyright for all sterling notes and, under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, it is an offence "to reproduce on any substance whatsoever, and whether or not on the correct scale, any Bank of England banknote or any part of a Bank of England banknote" without its prior permission.

The Bank deals with companies wanting to reproduce sterling designs on items such as wallets and tea towels, but toy notes even approaching an accurate reproduction of real ones are forbidden. "We strongly discourage people from doing it," says a Bank of England source. "You get people taken in and it's our job to promote confidence in the currency."

There seems little chance of the Early Learning Centre's "£10 note", for instance, getting past even the laxest cashier. A gently smiling cartoon lion replaces the Queen and the message "Token for play use only" is printed more prominently than on its euro offerings.

Image copyright ELC

The European Central Bank, which sets reproduction rules for euro notes, is less prescriptive than the Bank of England. It states that they should be big or small enough to avoid confusion.

The Early Learning Centre's 100-euro note measures 147mm (about 5½in) by 82mm, the same size as the real one. But looking at it for more than a split second would show it is not real, and the smooth, thick paper it is printed on should be a giveaway.

"This is not something for the ECB," says a spokesman, when asked about the production of toy euros. "If at all, it would be covered by national legislation."

The euro is, of course, not legal tender in Northern Ireland or the rest of the UK, but many shops accept it as payment.

And, as the UK is not part of the eurozone, it has no say over the issuing of euro notes, toy or real. It is also impossible, however strong the guidelines in place, to prevent all human error.

Image copyright Thinkstock

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