€300 can buy 1,000 counterfeited euros in the village of Giugliano, Italy.


The year 2002 was tough for the currency counterfeiters of Giugliano, Italy. “When the euro arrived, they had to study how to make the new banknotes,” remembers Colonel Alessandro Gentili, head of the Italian Carabinieri’s Currency Anticounterfeiting Unit. But the cramming paid off. In the decade since then, half of the 6 million fake euro banknotes seized in the eurozone have come from this suburb of Naples, barely 20 kilometers wide.

Giugliano’s counterfeiters set up expensive offset printing machines in old factories or abandoned houses in the countryside. They use code to speak over the phone: a “football shirt” is a €50 bill; “jeans” means dollars. Most of their product is shipped by the local mafia to Eastern Europe, Africa and South America, where people are less likely to recognize fakes. Of the bills that stay in Europe, the most popular is the 20-euro note, because few shop owners will bother checking whether it’s real or not. The counterfeiters sell them for six real euros each.

When Colonel Gentili and his men arrested more than 100 counterfeiters in a single night in 2009, Italy’s counterfeiting industry suffered a blow. But Giugliano’s local entrepreneurs weren’t beaten. “It’s a family tradition,” says Gentili. “When one goes to prison, his wife and son take over.”


From the pages of COLORS #85 - Going to Market.