COUNTERFEITERS are flooding the Lothians with “high-quality” fake £20 banknotes which are coated in hairspray to make them harder to detect.
An Eastern European gang is believed to be behind the scam after first using the counterfeit Bank of England notes to rip off drug dealers.
However, sources said the repeated stings have meant the gangsters are no longer able to use them to buy drugs, and instead the fake money is being passed into general circulation.
Police today issued a warning to the public to be wary of counterfeit cash, and urged residents to check features such as paper quality to ensure they do not fall victim.
The notes – one of which was obtained by the Evening News – feature realistic water marks and silver inlays.
Only an examination of the paper quality is likely to identify them as fakes.
By coating the notes with hairspray, the gangsters aim to defeat detector pens and allow them to be passed off to members of the public, shops and other outlets.
It is believed that thousands of pounds of counterfeit notes are in circulation in the Lothians. A group of Polish ex-military gangsters is understood to be behind the scam, according to underworld insiders.
One source from the Sighthill area said: “Their notes are among the most realistic twenties I’ve ever seen.
“A lot of counterfeiters produce fake money in smaller quantities and then use it to buy items so they can pocket the real change. But these Polish guys expressly set out with the intent of using their fake money to rip off drug dealers.”
The source said that he was aware of “three or four cocaine deals” where fake money had been used to buy “large amounts of drugs”.
He added: “Needless to say, in terms of them ripping off other dealers, that game’s up.
“Word is out on the street and they won’t be able to do that any more.
“So, to get rid of the rest of the money they’ve had printed they’re passing it off all over the city. I’ve heard reports it’s widely in circulation to the extent a cash dispenser in the city recently gave out money that was fake.”
Detector pens – which can be bought from as little as £5 – draw a clear, see-through line when traced on real legal tender.
On most fake cash, the pens leave an unsightly brown or purple mark that does not fade. But the hairspray barrier prevents the pens from touching the actual fabric of the note.
The underworld source added: “It’s simple but effective. It’s only when you hold them up to the light that things start to unravel. Even though they feel and look real at face value, the water mark of the Queen that shines through it isn’t as clear and the silver inlay isn’t as strong as it could be.
“They’re convincing but hopefully this will act as a warning.”
A police spokesman said: “It is a criminal offence to hold or pass a note that you know to be counterfeit, and if anyone suspects they have been handed a fake note, then they should seize it and contact the police.”
RIP-OFF MERCHANTS’ FAMILIAR RUSE
IT is not the first time that fake banknotes have been used by Edinburgh-based gangsters to rip off drug dealers.
Police believe the abduction of a teenager by gangsters, who included now slain gangland enforcer Kevin “Gerbil” Carroll, shot dead in Glasgow in January 2010, was sparked after criminals from the Capital bought a consignment of heroin using counterfeit notes.
Aaron Hunter, then 16, was abducted from his Clermiston home in October 2008 and held to ransom for £150,000 after the fake notes were passed to Liverpool drug dealers. The teenager was later freed unharmed.
Earlier this month, police warned shop owners in East Lothian to be vigilant after counterfeit banknotes were passed at a number of shops in Prestonpans and Tranent.
A total of 14 counterfeit notes were used at variety of retailers in each town in the space of two weeks from March 4. The notes were described as Royal Bank of Scotland £20 and £10 notes.