How to spot counterfeit money
New bills are easy to check.
This post comes from Philip Brewer at partner blog Wise Bread.
It used to be that spotting a "good" counterfeit bill was impossible
for ordinary people. If it was good enough to pass the "look and feel"
test, an ultraviolet light or a magnetic ink detector would be needed
to detect fraud. But for the past 10 years, the U.S. Bureau of
Engraving and Printing has been making bills that are easy to check for
The amount of counterfeit money in the United States is low enough that
most people feel safe taking money with barely a minimal check for
counterfeits. Does it look and feel like money? Then it probably is.
But have you ever gotten a bill and thought something -- either the
bank note or the person giving it to you -- seemed a little off? Ever
wished you could quickly check to see if it's good?
Well, here's how:
Look and feel. This is as far as most people go, and it's good enough most of the time. U.S. bank notes are printed on special paper that's 75% cotton and 25% linen. The linen gives it an extra stiffness. Also, red and blue fibers are imbedded in the paper. Bank notes are printed in a process called "intaglio" that leaves ink on top of the paper, giving the money a distinctive texture. The printing is also of very high quality, so the lines are sharp and clear, not broken, fuzzy or blobby.
- Bing: How to spot counterfeits
Color-shifting ink. On bank notes bigger than $5, color-shifting ink is used to print the denomination in the lower right-hand corner. Look at the number head-on and then from an angle. On genuine notes, the color will shift from copper to green or green to black.
You can get this far pretty discreetly. You’re automatically
checking for the look and feel as soon as the bill is handed to you,
and you can confirm the color-shifting ink with a quick glance. Going
further will require that you hold the note up to the light -- which is
basically saying that you think you might have gotten counterfeit
money. A lot of people hesitate to do that, but it's the next step if
you want to be sure.
Watermark. All bills bigger than $2 now have a
watermark. Just hold the bill up to the light to see it. For the $10,
$20, $50 and $100 bills, the image matches the portrait. That's also
true of the current $5 bill, but on the new $5
coming out in early 2008, the watermark will be a big numeral 5. Either
way, you can use it to spot bills that have been bleached and reprinted
with a higher denomination. The watermark is part of the paper and is
visible from the back of the note as well.
Security thread. All bills bigger than $2 have a security thread running vertically through them. As with the watermark, you hold the bill up to the light to see it. The thread has text with the bill's denomination and an image that is unique to that denomination. Each denomination's is in a different place, so you can spot bills that have been bleached and reprinted with a higher denomination. (The threads also glow different colors under ultraviolet light, but that's not much help to ordinary folks.)
That's it. A bill is almost certainly genuine if it:
Looks and feels like a U.S. bank note.
Has color-shifting ink in the lower right-hand corner.
Has a watermark that matches the portrait.
Has a security thread with text that matches the denomination.
What about older bills?
These security features gradually were added starting in 1996,
but older bills are still around. Now that it has been more than 10
years, it's time to simply refuse to accept them. Old bills still in
circulation -- especially high-denomination bills -- are much more
likely to be counterfeit. The innocent holder of an old bill can easily
take it to the bank and get new currency, so your refusal to take it is
no burden. (Also, your homeowners insurance may cover you if you
accept bad bills. Really. Read more in "Insurance you didn't know you had."
If you're interested in this sort of thing, here are some other pages worth checking out:
The U.S. Secret Service covers spotting counterfeit money the old-fashioned way, without using the security features of modern bills.
The How Stuff Works article "How counterfeiting works" walks you through making your own counterfeit with a scanner and a color printer. It explains why it's harder than it looks and how most counterfeiters are caught and sent to prison for a long time.
"Currency design in the United States and abroad: counterfeit deterrence and visual accessibility," from the St. Louis Federal Reserve (.pdf download), describes how different countries have tried to optimize the trade-offs between fighting counterfeiting, making their money accessible to people with limited vision, and making the money easy for banks and other high-volume users of currency to handle.
Other articles of interest at Wise Bread and MSN Money:
- A second emergency fund you never spend
- 10 easy ways to be nicer to the environment and your wallet
- 10 things to do with bulk block mozzarella
- Your paper check is a thief's best friend
Copyright © 2013 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
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