Automated teller machine operators are optimistic that a government- sponsored information campaign will make consumers comfortable with the redesigned $20 bill.
Doing their part, major ATM deployers are making use of the government's literature and tacking up posters with titles like "New Designs for Your Money."
"We're making all this information available for free," said Robert McCarthy, a spokesman for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. "Banks that want to keep their customers will take advantage of this information and (make sure it is) put at the appropriate points of sale."
As the bills with anti-counterfeit features make their way into circulation starting today, ATMs will be dispensing a mix of the old and new. The old twenties may not be weeded out for three to four years, the Treasury said.
Over the last two years the Treasury has changed the $100 and $50 bills, and eventually the $10 is in for a face-lift too. No decision has been made about $5 and $1 notes. These are generally considered not worth counterfeiting.
Twenties are of particular interest to ATM operators because it is their-and cardholders'-most demanded denomination.
ATM companies tend to think the public will take to the new note quickly. Diebold Inc. has run consumer tests of the new $20 bill. "There really were no problems," said a spokeswoman for the Canton, Ohio-based machine manufacturer.
The changes are meant to thwart counterfeiters who were using advanced image scanners, color copiers, and laser printers.
A decade ago the criminal element "probably had a large plant, skilled craftsmen, a pressman, and a big electric bill," Mr. McCarthy said. Today, "laser printers can produce counterfeits" without all the overhead.
The Treasury said $136.2 billion in counterfeit U.S. currency was seized worldwide last year, three-quarters of it before the anti- counterfeit bills went into circulation.
(Numismatists note that the situation is far less dire than in 1865, when about a third of circulating U.S. currency was fake.)
Barry Schreiber, professor of criminal justice at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, said the Treasury is "raising the bar to what is necessary" to produce counterfeit money.
"With security, you are just buying time," Mr. Schreiber said. "Whether it is the thickness of the wall of a safe or the sophistication of a currency, people will come up with the necessary tools for what they want to do."
The new bills are printed with a special ink that makes the numbers look green or black depending on the angle of light.
Through hard-to-duplicate microprinting techniques, some letters and numbers on the notes are the size of a pencil point.
The general color of the bill remains the same, and it still says, "In God We Trust." The portrait of Andrew Jackson has gotten bigger.
Mr. McCarthy said merchants can verify authenticity "in a split second, with a little bit of light-it's so easy."
The notes are designed to fit right into ATMs. The currency has passed a variety of stress tests such as crumpling, folding, laundering, soiling, and soaking in solvents such as gasoline and acid, the Treasury said.
This "Series 1996" is the first major face-lift since 1929, when the standard portraits, emblems, and monuments were incorporated and the bills' size was reduced by 25%
In 1995 just 0.5% of all fake bills were "P-notes," the government's term for funny money manufactured with color printers and copiers. The percentage rose to 3% in 1996 and is expected to be 43% by yearend.
An anticipated boom in "home office" counterfeiting led the National Research Council to embark on a currency redesign study in 1993. The study and research cost $765,000.