Have you ever gotten stuck with a counterfeit bill? The LA Times recently ran an interesting story about a guy who cashed in a $1000 Postal Service money order and received ten $20 bills along with eight $100 bills in return.
Unfortunately, all eight of the $100 bills turned out to be fake. Even worse… Once the police got involved, they confiscated the bills, and he was out $800. This is generally how it works with counterfeit money — whoever has it last loses out.
How to spot fake money
In the interest of sparing you the same pain, I thought it would be worth talking about how to identify counterfeit bills. The US Secret Service has some basic tips for spotting fakes.
The portrait on a legitimate bill should appear lifelike and stand out distinctly from the background. With counterfeit bills, the details merge with the background, which is often dark and mottled.
The points on the Federal Reserve and Treasury seals should be clear, distinct, and sharp. On a counterfeit bill, the seals my be uneven or blunt, or the points make appear broken.
The fine lines in the border around the outside of the bill should be clear and unbroken. On a counterfeit bill, these lines may be blurred and indistinct.
The serial numbers
The serial numbers on your bills should be crisp and evenly spaced. They should also be printed in the exact same color as the Treasury seal. On a counterfeit bill, the serial numbers may differ in color or shade of ink from the Treasury seal, and they may not be uniformly spaced or aligned.
You may have noticed that genuine currency has tiny red and blue fibers embedded within it. Counterfeiters often try to emulate these fibers by print tiny red and blue lines on the paper. If you look closely, it will be obvious that they are printed on the surface instead of embedded within the paper.
Other counterfeit indicators
The above tips from the Secret Service are all somewhat useful, but they’re still quite subjective. If you’re looking for a more definitive test, Philip Brewer of WiseBread has some nice tips, including:
- Color-shifting ink: Bank notes larger than $5 use color-shifting ink for the number showing the denomination in the lower right-hand corner of the bill. Look at the number straight on and then from an angle. The color should change. For example, on the $10 bill that I’m holding, it goes from green to black (newer bills go form copper to green).
- Watermark: All bills larger than $2 now include a watermark. Hold the bill up to light and you should see it. On $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills, the image matches the portrait on the bill. This is also true of older $5 bills, but the new bills have a large numeral 5 as their watermark.
- Security thread: All bills larger than $2 have a vertical security thread running through them. When held up to light, you’ll see a thin strip running from top to bottom. If you look closely, you’ll see that it specifies the value of the bill. For example, on this same $10 bill, it says “USA TEN” over and over.
So… Back to the original question. Have you ever gotten stuck with any counterfeit bills? If so, please share the details. How much money was at stake? How did you discover the problem? And what ended up happening?