Counterfeit Money: How to Spot Fake Bills
by Paul Davis
When retailers accept fake bills, they bear the entire burden of the loss. And though it's true that counterfeiters' techniques are getting more and more complex, there are numerous things retail employees can do to recognize counterfeit money.
The U.S. Secret Service is warning retailers and consumers in Connecticut that counterfeit $100 bills are circulating in and around the state.
The Connecticut Better Business Bureau (BBB) was alerted to one of the counterfeit bills that had been passed to an unidentified retailer in Southeastern Connecticut. According to the Connecticut BBB, the phony bill began as a legitimate $5 bank note.
“The counterfeiters apparently used a technique that involves bleaching legitimate money and altering the bills to look like $100 notes,” the BBB stated in an announcement. “Many businesses use special pens to detect counterfeit currency, however the pens cannot give a definitive confirmation about suspected altered currency, and they are not sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury.”
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The Connecticut BBB advises business owners to turn to the banks for assistance. Banks, the BBB notes, work closely with government investigators, use technology that can tell if the paper currency has been altered, and they report cases of counterfeit money to the Secret Service.
If you receive a counterfeit bill, you can’t recoup your money, but the BBB says that businesses can claim losses due to counterfeit money as an income tax deduction.
Unfortunately, counterfeit bills are not confined to the state of Connecticut. I recall that a Philadelphia detective told me that counterfeiters are highly mobile and they come in all sizes and shapes.
“Some counterfeiters use junkies and street people to spread phony $10 and $20 bills to a wide bunch of business establishments. The business owners don’t take notice of the junkies or the bills because the purchases and the bills are so small,” the detective explained. “The crooks that pass the $50 and the $100 bills tend to be more professional. They are confident and legitimate-looking, so business owners readily accept the phony bills without becoming suspicious.”
The detective said business owners should train their employees to examine all bills they receive, $10 and higher. If they believe are given a phony bill, call the police.
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Small business owners need to be aware of the many ways to detect counterfeit money. The Secret Service offers the below methods to detect counterfeit bills:
- Hold a bill up to a light and look for a holograph of the face image on the bill. Both images should match. If the $100 bill has been bleached, the hologram will display an image of Abraham Lincoln, who appears on the $5 bills, instead of Benjamin Franklin.
- Looking at the bill through a light will also reveal a thin vertical strip containing text that spells out the bill’s denomination.
I’d also like to pass on some tips from the U.S. Treasury:
- Color-shifting ink: If you hold the new series bill (except the $5 note) and tilt it back and forth, please observe the numeral in the lower right hand corner as its color shifts from green to black and back.
- Watermark: Hold the bill up to a light to view the watermark in an unprinted space to the right of the portrait. The watermark can be seen from both sides of the bill since it is not printed on the bill but is imbedded in the paper.
- Security Thread: Hold he bill a light to view the security thread. You will see a thin imbedded strip running from top to bottom on the face of a banknote. In the $10 and $50 the security strip is located to the right of the portrait, and in the $5, $20 and $100, it is located just to the left of the portrait.
- Ultraviolet Glow: If the bill is held up to an ultraviolet light, the $5 bill glows blue; the $10 bill glows orange, the $20 bill glows green, the $50 bill glows yellow, and the $100 bill glows red – if they are authentic!
- Microprinting: There are minute microprinting on the security threads: the $5 bill has “USA FIVE” written on the thread; the $10 bill has “USA TEN” written on the thread; the $20 bill has “USA TWENTY” written on the thread; the $50 bill has “USA 50” written on the thread; and the $100 bill has the words “USA 100” written on the security thread. Microprinting can be found around the portrait as well as on the security threads.
- Fine Line Printing Patterns: Very fine lines have been added behind the portrait and on the reverse side scene to make it harder to reproduce.
- Comparison: Compare the feel and texture of the paper with other bills you know are authentic.
If you believe you have received a counterfeit bill, the U.S. Treasury advises you to do the following:
- Do not put yourself in danger.
- Do not return the bill to the passer.
- Delay the passer with some excuse, if possible.
- Observe the passer’s description – and their companions’ descriptions – and write down their vehicle license plate numbers if you can.
- Contact your local police department or call your local Secret Service office.
- Write your initials and date in the white border area of the suspected counterfeit note.
- Do not handle the counterfeit note. Place it inside a protective cover, a plastic bag, or envelope to protect it until you place it in the hands of an identified Secret Service Special Agent. You can also mail it to your nearest Secret Service office.
Remember, if you are passed a counterfeit bill, you own it. So when accepting cash, it pays to be knowledgeable about the crime of counterfeiting.