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Taggants - The Counterfeit Game

Updated on September 20, 2012

Counterfeit Currency

photo by wwarby on Flickr
photo by wwarby on Flickr

How To Fake Anything

Taggants are chemical and physical markers that can be added to various products in order to facilitate better tracking, detection and identification of that which they are added too. Microdots are a variation of a taggant, but they generally are layered microscopic particles that are developed to be covert and traceable. There is a cloud of secrets regarding most any taggant technology, and for good reason, because it is governments and companies trying to stay one step ahead of those who would counterfeit or otherwise illegally use their products. Taggant nanoparticle inks is the next evolution of this security mechanism which aims to use synthesized nanoparticles to create a larger array of usable unique signatures for government and brand protection purposes.

Taggants are used in the explosives industry for the dual purpose of both tracking and identification post-explosion. Companies are under orders from various government legislation (such as the USA's Antiterrorism Act of 1996) to include chemical markers that make detection via explosives detection dogs and ion mobility spectrometers easier. DMDNB and other chemical taggants evaporate slow from their parent explosives and this makes such preemptive detection through atmospheric measurements and animals possible. Identification of explosive materials and plastic explosives can be done post-detonation with taggants such as microscopic polymer particles. Law enforcement can utilize the information to track down manufacturers, lot numbers, and otherwise ferret out the source of the bomb making materials.

While antiterrorism applications may be the most beneficial to human life, taggants can also be used by companies for brand recognition and security reasons. Invisible to the human eye and unknown to many would be criminals, the codes can be applied to banknotes such as dollars and Euros to prevent against counterfeiter's methods. One problem with inorganic phosphors that have been used as pigments and additives is that there is a limited number of uniquely identifiable such phosphors available for use. Toxic Nanoparticles has uncovered that research and testing of new nanoparticle inks is being done in order to expand the number of codes available for use. Nanoparticles doped with rare earth elements seem to be a promising alternative due to their property of emitting and absorbing near infrared light sources. These printable nanoparticle taggant inks will likely soon find implementation in everything from currency to passports and other identification documents that have a tendency to be forged and need document security.

Corporations can use these nanoparticle inks to identify the location and time of manufacture for a specific product, and that information will assist in determining things such as warranty liability, manufacturer overruns, or product dilution. Of course, nanoparticles will be used for taggants outside of the inks as well. The addition of nanoparticle identification mechanisms is already being done in various solutions and powder forms. An example of such a taggant on a large scale would be the embedded identification mechanism of the Taser guns that spray a serial numbered confetti at the scene of use to prevent illegal tasing and assist in tracking the purchaser of the weapon. Nanoparticles are just taking this to an invisible level and broadening potential applications. Economic and environmental impacts need to be carefully considered when developing such a marker because the costs have to be low enough that it is feasible for a plant to implement and toxic nanoparticles should, of course, not be released to the environment. There are a variety of candidates that as far as current nanotoxicity tests show have proven non-toxic and conform to those requirements. The upconverting phosphors that anti-counterfeiting taggant technology has previously utilized can be dropped to the nanoscale with upconverting phospor nanoparticles. Due to the secrecy behind the inclusion of these tracing mechanisms it is likely that consumers and citizens will unknowingly be exposed to a greater amount of nanoparticles and it is absolutely morally vital that they not be toxic nanoparticles.

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