Color laser printers include the unit’s serial number on every printout.

Here’s something I didn’t know before now, but it explains a lot: Apparently all color laser devices—printers, copiers, etc.—sold since 1995 have been encoding their serial number into every printout made from them so counterfeit documents can be traced by the government back to the source.

Peter Crean, a senior research fellow at Xerox, says his company’s laser printers, copiers and multifunction workstations, such as its WorkCentre Pro series, put the “serial number of each machine coded in little yellow dots” in every printout. The millimeter-sized dots appear about every inch on a page, nestled within the printed words and margins.

“It’s a trail back to you, like a license plate,” Crean says.

The dots’ minuscule size, covering less than one-thousandth of the page, along with their color combination of yellow on white, makes them invisible to the naked eye, Crean says. One way to determine if your color laser is applying this tracking process is to shine a blue LED light—say, from a keychain laser flashlight—on your page and use a magnifier.

There have been a number of money and check frauds over the past several years which the Secret Service seemed to be able to crack wide open with amazing ease and speed and now we know why. The color laser printers used tattled on the suspects. Needless to say, this gives one pause to wonder how many other devices have similar “features” in them. It’s not even so much that I have a problem with this technology being in place as much as I have a problem with not knowing about it as it is ripe for abuse in the wrong hands. Something to think about the next time you make a print from a color laser printer or copier.

Found via Boing Boing.

3 thoughts on “Color laser printers include the unit’s serial number on every printout.

  1. I read about this yesterday and a couple of thoughts occurred to me. What happens in the event that someone makes one of these copies on one machine then turns around and copies that copy on a diferent machine? Does the new copy have the serial number for both machines embedded? Is the serial number always embeded in the same place? If so, would the two serial numbers overlay each other thus obscuring both?

    BTW Les- I tried to sign up for an SEB account earlier this morning and still haven’t received the activation email. Thought I’d let you know as it’s been a few hours now.

  2. Actually, color copiers, for years well before 1995, had a special “flag” that noted the time-n-date of when certain “greens” were copied.  The SecretService would often make special little trips to these copiers to check for flags.

    Counterfeits happen a lot more than people think.
    Iran and Syrian, for example, are understood to account for most of the fake US currency both domestic and international.

    Before that?  The Third Reich produced more fake US and UK currency than all other producers combined, during its existance that is, with the help of Jewish slave labour.

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