How To Detect Counterfeit Money

Why should you be concerned about counterfeit money?  If you or one
of your staff unknowingly accepts a counterfeit bill and you take it to your
bank and they scan it, you will lose the face value of that money.  You may
even be investigated for passing counterfeit money. 

If you receive  a counterfeit bill, write your name and date on it so you can
find it later and set it aside.  If you can remember where or from who you
got the bill record this information also.  Then notify the Secret Service Office
or police department. 

The Treasury Department will remove it from circulation, and retain it as
evidence for the prosecution of the counterfeiter and you will lose the face
value of the counterfeit bill. Don't be tempted to knowingly pass the bill on
to someone else or you may also be prosecuted. Counterfeit passers can
receive up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000.00 fine.

How can you tell if it is counterfeit money?  The feel will usually alert you to
the fact that something is wrong with the bill. Take a real good look at any
bill that feels different.  If it looks suspicious, compare it with a genuine one.
In a genuine bill, the paper is very high quality rag paper with small red and
blue threads throughout. It has a distinctive texture and color. In a counterfeit, 
paper may feel different or may be a different white than genuine paper.
Red and blue lines may be drawn to imitate the fibers. Counterfeit bills are
typically smooth, much like a photograph which no raised ink can be felt.
The color may be faded because counterfeits loose their color easily.

The  face should appear life-like and stand out sharply from the fine screen
background of regular, unbroken lines. Lines in the face, hair, and clothing
are distinct. In counterfeit bills, the lines are blurred and may blend into the
background, which itself may be too light or dark. Face and eyes may appear

Looking at the seal, saw tooth points are sharp and evenly spaced. In a
counterfeit, saw tooth points may be broken, blunt, or uneven. Seal may also
be unclear.

The serial number  figures should be sharp and evenly spaced. On Federal
Reserve Notes, the prefix letter agrees with the District letter in the seal. In a
counterfeit, poor impression may make the numbers too light or dark, or may
be blurred. May also be unevenly spaced or out-of-line.

Next look at the border.  The scroll work has fine crisscrossing lines which
are sharp and unbroken. In a counterfeit lines may be blurred and are often

If you suspect to money is counterfeit, contact the United States Secret Service
Office for your state -

Ways you can protect yourself:

You can put up signs saying you do not accept $100 dollar bills (not
recommended as most people shop after pay day and are more likely to
have large bills).

You can buy a counterfeit currency detection pen, which is easy to use and
requires no training. A clerk at a cash register uses the detector pen to put
a small mark on the bill. If the bill is counterfeit and the paper is wood-based,
the iodine in the pen solution will react with the starch and leave a dark brown
or black mark. If the bill is authentic and the paper is fiber-based, there won't
be any starch and the pen will not leave a mark. A detector pen costs between
5-10 dollars and can  screen up to 3,000 bills. Amber color means bill is
good, black means bill is suspect.

Counterfeit pens are pens containing an iodine-based ink. They can be used to detect counterfeit Swiss franc, euro and United States banknotes amongst others. Typically, genuine banknotes are printed on paper based on cotton fibers, and do not contain the starches that react with iodine. When the pen is used to mark genuine bills, the mark is yellowish or clear. Counterfeit pens are most effective against notes printed on standard printer or photocopier paper.

Pen manufacturers claim such pens will detect a great majority of counterfeit bills, but critics suggest the effectiveness is much lower. Critics claim that professional counterfeiters use starch-free paper, making the pen unable to detect the majority of counterfeit money in circulation. Magician and skeptic James Randi has written about the ineffectiveness of counterfeit pens on numerous occasions and uses a pen as an example during his lectures.. Randi claims to have contacted a United States Secret Service inspector and asked whether the pen works as advertised, to which the inspector replied "it is not dependable." The Secret Service does not include such pens in their guidelines for the public's detection of counterfeit US currency. Former United States Secret Service agent Larry Goddard is on the record as saying "Protecting yourself against these thieves should be at the top of your priority list. This counterfeit detector pen is a quick and easy first line of defense."

Some US counterfeiters bleach small denominations and print more valuable bills on the resulting blank paper to evade this test, although changes to the currency since 2004 have made this method easier to detect. This is one reason that many currencies use different sized notes for different denominations. Wikipedia® (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License)


Counterfeit - illegally printed or imitated.

Denomination - value of a bank note.

MG (Magnetic) - counterfeit measure used to detect magnetic components in currency.

UV (Ultra violet) -counterfeit detection that uses UV light to detect authentic bills.

Watermark - an embossed image that can be seen when held up to a fluorescent light.

More Information:

How Counterfeit Detectors Work-

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