The counterfeiting of money is one of the oldest crimes in history according to the United States Secret Service. During the 19th century individual banks were responsible for printing their own money so it was hard to authenticate bills because of lack of consistency. Around that time it was estimated that one-third of all American currency was fake. In fact the U.S. Secret Service was created in 1865 with the sole intention of suppressing counterfeiting. Since its creation the Secret Service claims to have dampened this criminal activity significantly, but the technologies of the modern world make it easier for criminals to print fake bills. Once these counterfeit bills go into circulation, the economy and public become victims of this crime.
Here are some tips on how to detect counterfeit bills and coins:
Real bills are printed on a cloth-like paper with embedded blue and red threads. Counterfeits will feel like a piece of paper and are more likely to be torn because of this. If a bill is torn, check carefully to make sure it isn’t fake.
A real bill will have clear and crisp letters, numbers and presidential portrait that almost look 3D. The serial numbers and treasury seal should be the same color and the serial number numbers should be in alignment. Fakes often use different colors for the seal and numbers, and have numbers that are not aligned.
On some of the new bills (off-center president and/or slightly colored), the bill denomination number on the bottom right will be flecked with gold and green and will shine when moved. For example on a $10, the bottom right numeral “10” is flecked with gold and green stripes.
For fakes check for fuzzy and unclear-looking borders, a flat-looking presidential portrait and unclear numbers and letters. The printing on fakes can also be off center.
The newest bills issued (the off-center presidential picture and/or slightly colored) all have identifying watermarks. You can see the watermark by holding the bill up to the light. The first watermark to look for is on the right side of the bill and it should be the same portrait of the same president that’s on the bill.
The other identifying water mark is a line of words running down the bill from top to bottom with the amount of the bill and the word USA. For example on a $10, the watermark line will say: TEN USA. This line cannot be copied with a printer or on a fake note.
Counterfeits won’t have these official watermarks, however fakes can show the watermarks of the paper that they were printed on.
Real bills but counterfeit amount:
Sometimes real bills are altered to change the denomination. For example, it you get a $10 that has a portrait of George Washington – then it’s a $1 that’s been altered to a $10.
Counterfeit coins aren’t as common as bills but most coin counterfeiters nowadays will counterfeit old and rare coins. Commonly the mint or dates are altered on genuine coins so check for unclear numbers or letters.
On modern coins 5 cents and above, the corrugated outer edges – called reeding – is always present and uniform. Fakes will have uneven or even missing reeding.
What to do if you encounter a fake bill or coin?
The U.S. Secret Service gives tips on how to react when you receive suspect counterfeit money.
1) Don’t return the money to the person who gave it to you, but try to delay them and remember identifying details about the person, accomplices and license plate numbers.
2) Try to limit the handling of the bill and put it in a plastic bag or envelope. But first write your initials and date on the border of the suspect bill.
3) Contact your local police department or Secret Service field office and give the bill to them.
The best defense against counterfeit money is awareness and knowing that you can get passed a fake bill anywhere. Someone I know was recently given a fake bill in an upscale Manhattan store.
For more information visit the U.S. Secret Service website here