Fri. Sep 4th, 2020

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How to Spot Counterfeit Money

3 min read
spotting counterfeit money

According to the latest Federal Reserve report in 2006, one in 10,000 bills being circulated are counterfeit. With 39.8 billion notes in circulation, 39.8 million notes are potentially counterfeit. That’s quite a lot. However, with the right precautions in place, you can save your business from losing potential currency and the value of any goods you might have sold for counterfeit money. 

What Kinds of Counterfeit Bills are Out There? 

Let’s start with how counterfeiters create fake bills, so you generally know what you are guarding against. 

Bill alteration

Because of the security details embedded into the paper itself, some counterfeiters use actual, lower-value bills. They then bleach those bills just enough to be able to modify the surface. For example, a $5 bill can become a $20 bill. When you touch the paper, it feels like real currency (because, well, it is). But when other security checks are made, the counterfeit bill is revealed. 

High definition scanning and printing

One of the less sophisticated ways of counterfeiting money is high-definition scanning and printing. A large enough scan of a higher-quality bill can make a passable printed copy. While a lot of details will be lost, it can be easily folded up with other bills, or passed in low light. As long as extra security measures are not taken, it could make it all the way into the cash box without being detected. 

Who Passes Counterfeit Bills?

Sometimes, counterfeit bills are passed by honest people who did not recognize what they had. Other times, they are deliberately placed in circulation. For small bills ($5, $10), they usually enter circulation through vendors and buyers who deal with a lot of cash, such as corner stores, coffee carts, fruit stands, and the like. Larger bills come straight from people who are trained to pass them to store owners with complete confidence; this lowers general suspicion. 

How to Spot Counterfeit Money

Generally, it’s best to observe every bill you receive over $10. Here are some simple ways any business can spot counterfeit money, according to the Secret Service

The feel of the paper

Rag paper, what is used to make money, is 25% linen and 75% cotton. This makes it strong, wrinkle-resistant, and able to survive even a few turns in your washing machine. If you touch notes, you will see it has a different consistency than regular paper. People who handle cash a lot can detect counterfeit currency just by counting it out. 

What about bleached or altered bills?

A trick of the light

If you have enough light at your cashier, you can do two things. First, you can hold the bill to the light to see the watermark, a secondary portrait of the image on the bill. (If you think it’s rude, have a smaller light bulb under the counter you can easily use.) Second, you can shift the paper from side to side. For $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills, you will see the patterns shift from green to copper to green again. If your cashiers are trained to notice this, they can do it quickly without being too obvious about it. 

Ultraviolet rays

Actually, this is the quickest and easiest way to spot counterfeit money. With a UV light, you can find out, practically right away, if the bills are counterfeit. A subtle light right over the cash register can help, as you can count out bills right under it.

Look for the following:

  • Red and blue security specks. They are threaded all throughout the paper. Under UV light, they will gleam.
  • The denomination thread. This thin thread stretches from top to bottom. It has the denomination written on it, and it is in a different place, depending on the denomination. It also gleams under UV light. 

It’s simple enough, but not so easy to remember when there’s a lot of customers or it’s a high-pressure kind of day. Don’t neglect other precautions, such as CCTVs and security personnel. Both can discourage counterfeiters from exchanging any fake currency. 

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