(Photo: AP Images / Alastair Grant, file)
A new report is stating that the South American country of Peru is the global leader when it comes to counterfeit U.S. currency, overtaking former leaders Columbia.
Peru's lax regulations and police involvement and low labor costs, crime organizations are seeing that producing fake money is more lucrative than the traditional underground export of cocaine.
Peru has in the past two years overtaken Colombia as the no. 1 source of counterfeit U.S. dollars, says the U.S. Secret Service, the organization charged with overseeing the legal use of the world's most popular currency.
In response, the service opened a permanent office in Lima last year -- only its fourth in Latin America -- and has since helped Peru's police arrest 50 people on counterfeiting charges, according to The Associated Press.
Those close to the situation claim that in the past 10 years, more than $100 million in counterfeit U.S. money that was produced in Peru has been seized, with about half that amount being confiscated since 2010 alone.
Peruvian and U.S. officials revealed that Peruvians in the illegal trade focus on craftsmanship rather than rate of production and are known for finishing each bill by hand.
"It's a very good note," a Secret Service officer at the U.S. Embassy told AP. "They use offset, huge machines that are used for regular printing of newspapers, or flyers."
"Once a note is printed they will throw five people (on it) and do little things, little touches that add to the quality," he said, speaking on condition he not be further identified for security reasons.
Most of the illicit currency makes its way into the U.S., but notes have also been making their way to neighboring countries such as Argentina, Venezuela and Ecuador, where it can be more lucrative than drugs, according to Col. Segundo Portocarrero, chief of the Peruvian police's fraud division.
"It's much more profitable than cocaine," a top investigator on Portocarrero's team, noting another of Peru's illegal exports, told AP.