Cash isn’t as popular as it used to be, but that hasn’t stopped counterfeiters from going bankrupt. A 2020 survey cited in a recent Federal Reserve report showed that US consumers only used cash for 19% of their transactions. It’s harder to find real statistics showing how much money is counterfeited. Often the number advertised on the internet is $70 million, but this is based on a 2006 report from the US Treasury Department.

Still, it is common to hear local news reports about counterfeit money. For example, earlier this year, a Home Depot employee was arrested for stealing $387,500 from the company over four years – by taking real money and exchanging it for counterfeit bills.

If you want to learn more about how to spot fake money, here’s an overview of how you should look at your money.

Evaluate the feel of the paper

Features to pay attention to:

  • The texture.
  • A freshness that should be there.
  • Slightly lifted ink.

This observation is based on instinct.
“Most counterfeits are identified by the feel of the paper,” says L. Burke Files, president of Financial Examinations & Valuations, a company that does investigations, risk management and other types of consulting in Tempe, Massachusetts. Arizona.

In general, counterfeit money “lacks the crisp silver feel and raised feel of black ink on the front of bills,” he says.

Files, a financial investigator for 30 years, says counterfeit money is a problem in every country and around the world. He also says that many business owners unfortunately seem to accept — and pass on — counterfeit dollars knowing they’re fake. Often when a business owner or consumer hands counterfeit money to the authorities, they are not reimbursed for that bill.

“As one person told me, it only gets bad when someone doesn’t take it,” Files says. Another suggestion when feeling the texture of the ticket – try to tell if the ink is lifted.

“Authentic currency has caused some ink to flow slightly. Therefore, you should be able to feel the texture of the ink,” says Rita Mkrtchyan, senior finance and litigation attorney at Oak View Law Group with offices in Florida and California. She has advised numerous clients, often startups in the service industry, on how to avoid losses, including how to detect counterfeit US currency.

Check for ink that changes color

Features to pay attention to:

  • Color changing ink.
  • Study the right corner of the bill.
  • Works with bills of $10 and up.

The paper money you are holding should change color.
“One of the easiest ways to spot a counterfeit note is to see if the bottom right corner of the note has color-changing ink on it,” says Austin Fain, owner of Perfect Steel Solutions, a roofing contractor in Fort Wayne, Indiana. . Fain says most of the company’s transactions are done in cash, and since those cash transactions are often a huge amount, he and his employees have become amateur cash experts.

“For all bills except the new $5 bill you can tilt it back and forth and if the number in the bottom right corner doesn’t change from green to black or gold to green , then you most likely received a fake invoice,” says Fain.

Study the watermark

Features to pay attention to:

  • The watermark.
  • Check the right side of the invoice.
  • Make sure your lighting is good.

“The watermark is the hallmark of an authentic note,” says Fain. “On some banknotes it is a replica of the face on the banknote and for others it may just be an oval stain. If you hold the note up to the light, the watermarks should be visible on the right side of the note. Make sure that if the watermark is a replica of the face, it matches the face exactly.
Fain adds that if you hold the note up to the light and there is no watermark or if you can see the watermark even without holding it up to the light, then the note you are holding is likely a counterfeit.

Look for embossed printing

Features to pay attention to:

  • Embossed printing.
  • Check the watermark again and the color changing ink.

“One of the most difficult aspects of a genuine banknote for counterfeiters to reproduce is the raised printing,” says Fain. “To detect it, all you have to do is run your fingernail slowly and carefully along the note. You will feel note resistance and vibration on your nail due to the ridges in the raised print.
If you don’t feel the vibration or resistance, that’s where Fain suggests rechecking that watermark and looking for color-changing ink.

Check serial number

Features to pay attention to:

  • The serial number.
  • Compare serial numbers if you have more than one suspected counterfeit note.

You’ve probably heard this before, but what are you looking for? Mkrtchyan says counterfeit notes can have serial numbers that aren’t evenly spaced or don’t line up neatly in a row.
“Also, if you have received multiple suspicious invoices, observe if the serial numbers are the same on both invoices. Obviously, if they are identical, they are counterfeit,” says Mkrtchyan.

Look for the fibers

Features to pay attention to:

  • Look for red fibers.
  • Look for blue fibers.
  • Be careful to make sure it’s fiber.

We think of paper money as paper, but it’s actually made of cotton and linen – and that allows the US Treasury to do some pretty cool things with “paper money”.
“All US banknotes have tiny red and blue fibers embedded in the paper,” says Mkrtchyan. “The red and blue lines should not be printed or drawn, as is often the case on counterfeit money, but rather should be part of the paper itself.”

Look for the plastic strip in the invoice

Features to pay attention to:

  • A strip of plastic that runs from the top to the bottom of the banknote.
  • Look for “USA” on the invoice.
  • This only works for tickets $5 and above.

There are a lot of things to do to make money that we all probably take for granted. Mkrtchyan suggests looking for the strip of plastic that runs from the top to the bottom of the banknote.
“The print will say ‘USA’ followed by the denomination of the note, which is spelled out for $5, $10 and $20 notes but presented in numerals on $50 and $100 notes,” she says.

The $1 and $2 do not have these plastic strips. Apparently, there isn’t as much of a counterfeit problem with these notes.

“These threads are placed in different places on each denomination to prevent lower denomination bills from being bleached out and reprinted in higher denominations. Therefore, you have to compare bills of the same denomination to detect the same tape location,” says Mkrtchyan.

In search of micro-printing

Features to pay attention to:

  • You are looking for a micro-print, hidden on the invoice.
  • Microprints are often phrases having to do with the United States.

You will need to use a magnifying glass to look for the microprint. Files suggests looking at Benjamin Franklin’s necklace on the $100 bill. If you have a $50 bill, look at Grant’s necklace. Look under the treasurer’s signature on the $20 bill and on the $5 bill Files suggests looking at the eagle’s shield. In these places you will find phrases such as “The United States of America”, “USA” or “E. Pluribus unum.
It’s no secret that these words appear on invoices, but microprinting is difficult for counterfeiters to duplicate.

Do you need special tools to spot counterfeit notes?

It can’t hurt to use special tools to detect counterfeit money, but, as you’ve read, you don’t need them.

There’s the AccuBANKER Cash+Card Counterfeit Detector, currently $64.99 on Amazon. It offers features to help employees determine whether they are looking at real or fake money, as well as a real or fake credit card, based on the product description. It has LED lights and an integrated ruler to check ticket dimensions, among other features.

There are many other counterfeit money detectors where you put the money in the machine, and it will determine if it is fake or not. The prices vary enormously. You can find them for less than $100, but there are plenty of options that cost a lot more.

There are also counterfeit pens, often sold in packs of 5 for $10, which claim to find counterfeit notes. In theory, if you write on money, you will see gold ink if the note is good and black ink if it is bad. However, you will find mixed reviews on products like this because these pens don’t seem to work as well if you come across a fancy and very well-made counterfeit.

You can also find ultraviolet flashlights on Amazon and at hardware and hardware stores, among other places.

“Place a bill on a piece of white paper and shine both with your UV flashlight,” Files says. “Paper will light up nice and bright, but genuine currency won’t. Also, the denomination threads will glow a different color for each denomination except the $1. Blue for the 5 $, orange for $10, green for $20, yellow for $50, and reddish for $100.

What should you do if you suspect you have a counterfeit note?

The US Treasury Department has some suggestions on its website, as do credit unions and banks. Some of the tips you will find include the following:

  • Don’t say anything that would put you in danger. For example, yelling at the person who gave you the bill wouldn’t be smart if that person is prone to violence. What if you were wrong about the person who gave you the fake money? It may be a completely innocent and unsuspecting consumer who does not know that the note is counterfeit.
  • Do not return the bill to the passerby. You’ll want to hang on to that bill and, as soon as possible, contact the police.
  • Take mental notes. The Treasury suggests, if it’s safe to do so, “observe the description of the smuggler – and the descriptions of their companions – and note their vehicle license plate numbers if you can”. The police will probably want to talk to this person.
  • Contact the authorities. Either contact the police, the Treasury suggests, or your local US Secret Service office. You can also go to the Secret Service website and fill out a form to report counterfeit money.
  • Don’t touch the money too much. Put it in a plastic bag or envelope, for authorities to retrieve later. It’s proof, after all, and in the unlikely event that fingerprints are detected, you don’t want to mess things up with your own fingerprints or otherwise damage the bill. Also, the last thing you want is to accidentally mix fake currency with your real money. Separating it in a bag should prevent this from happening.