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How to Spot Counterfeit Currency

Updated on October 10, 2016

Detecting Counterfeit U. S. Currency

Despite what many people think, the amount of counterfeit currency in circulation in the United States is very small-only 3/100ths of 1 percent of total currency. In part, that's because the U. S. Secret Service thoroughly investigates all reported counterfeiting cases, and because there are harsh criminal penalties for counterfeiting or passing fake bills. Perhaps more than anything though, counterfeiting is difficult because of the bill's security features, which are hard to reproduce but easy to use to verify your money's authenticity. This lens gives some general tips on how to spot counterfeit U. S. currency.

Public domain photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Know Your Currency

The U. S. Secret Service recommends that you educate yourself in regards to the proper positioning of key features on the most common paper currencies. These public domain images (courtesy U. S. Secret Service) show the correct positions of fifteen different features of the modern $10, $20 and $50 U. S. bills.

sopt fake currency
sopt fake currency
how to detect counterfeit currency
how to detect counterfeit currency
Detecting fake bills
Detecting fake bills

Counterfeit Poll

Have you ever (unknowingly, of course) been stopped trying to pass a counterfeit bill?

See results

Do NOT Break This Bill!

funny money
funny money

If somebody approaches you on the street and asks "Psst, hey buddy-can you break this?" Then they show you a million dollar bill similar to this one, do NOT make change for them. The U. S. Treasury has never issued a bill of this denomination!

Creative Commons image courtesy Flickr/Simon Davison

General Counterfeit Spotting Tips

****The 2004 series of bills brought on some big changes. The $10, $20, and $50 bills were redesigned with several tweaks to their overall look, most notably the addition of more colors. It's quite likely the most critical new security feature is the addition of Constellations (see right photo), a specific arrangement of symbols or numbers which makes many color photocopiers to refuse to copy the bill.

****The $1 and $2 bills have fewer security features than other denominations. This is rarely an issue because fakers seldom attempt to manufacture these smaller bills.

****It's a misnomer that if the ink smears when you rub the note on something, the bill isn't genuine. This isn't necessarily true, but ink that smears doesn't mean the bill is genuine, either.

****The United States Secret Service and the Treasury Department don't advise relying only on a counterfeit detection pen-the kind you often see clerks use in stores. The pens simply indicate whether the a bill is printed on the wrong kind of paper (reacting to the presence of starch). Because of this, they'll catch some counterfeits, but won't detect more hi-tech fakes and will give some false-negatives on real money that's been through the wash.

****Raised bills are a very simple and unsophisticated type of fake notes in which numerals are cut and glued onto a lower denomination bill to make it look like it's a higher denomination. These counterfeits are easy to detect by merely comparing the numbers in the corners to the denomination printed in letters at the bottom part of the currency.

****The ink used in U.S. currency is actually magnetic, but this is not a method for detecting counterfeits. The power is quite faint and is only helpful for automatic bill counters. If you use a magnet you cannot lift a real bill, but you can clearly see that it is magnetized.

Public domain photo courtesy Wikihow

The $200 Bill????

Believe it or not....

++In 2001, a man bought a sundae at a Danville, Kentucky, Dairy Queen with a $200 bill featuring President George W. Bush and received $197.88 in change.

++In September 2003, a North Carolina man named Travis Martin used a $200 bill at a Food Lion to purchase $150 in groceries; the cashier accepted the fake bill and presented Martin with $50 in change.

Any Opinions on Counterfeiting? - Feel free to drop them here!

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    • profile image

      Kenny 2 years ago

      I hear they are putting Prez Obama on a $6 Bill Someone said he was Swearing on the Koran .....

    • stick-man lm profile image

      stick-man lm 4 years ago

      Great lens idea. A lot of people need to know this stuff. I feel sorry for the guys that took the $200 bills.

    • DoctorMo1 profile image

      DoctorMo1 5 years ago

      I've had a few counterfeit bills over the years.

    • profile image

      myspace9 5 years ago

      No, it never happened with me. Very nice and informative lens.

    • paulgrossman profile image

      paulgrossman 5 years ago

      I did receive a fake $20 one time. It looked like the real thing but when I went to a fast food drive thru, the cashier immediately detected it and showed me how to spot it. I went to the bank and they took over from there...Very weird! Counterfeiters can a fool a lot of people...I know I was fooled! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I once heard years ago that one training method for spotting counterfeit currency was to saturate people with the real thing...they handled it so much, even playing with it that they knew the real thing so well that they could identify easily when a bill was not legit. Don't know if that's true but I can't imagine anone falling for the $200 bill scam or that anyone would try to make change for a $1,000,000,000 dollar bill....I just don't carry that much change! This is quite the teaching on the real thing, excellence!

    • scary-masks profile image

      scary-masks 5 years ago

      Very helpful - quite an eye-opener!

    • Phillyfreeze profile image

      Ronald Tucker 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      I was amazed to learn that "paper money" is not really made from paper!...very useful and educational lens.

    • Cari Kay 11 profile image

      Kay 5 years ago

      I'm more a debit card gal and rarely use large bills. I find this fascinating though. Blessed!

    • profile image

      webscan 5 years ago

      I even carefully examine the currency bills that a teller machine spills out.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      It still goes on it seems five euro notes are being hit at the moment. Then later on it will be something else.

    • spikeyflower profile image

      spikeyflower 5 years ago

      I use cash a lot, and worry about counterfeit bills. I always relied on the pens to check, but am glad that I now know that it might not be reliable.

    • profile image

      Shadrosky 5 years ago

      Fascinating lens!

    • AttorneyForFree profile image

      AttorneyForFree 5 years ago

      I think it's all bogus if it comes from the Fed.

    • OrlandoTipster profile image

      OrlandoTipster 5 years ago

      I always have the bank double check $100 bills they give me.

      I have overhead a customer telling cashier she was issued bad bill from that branch.

      Sucks when the bank is passing bogus money!

    • Onemargaret LM profile image

      Onemargaret LM 5 years ago

      Wow! Great information!

    • Chris-H LM profile image

      Chris-H LM 5 years ago

      I've been turned away for a legitimate $2 bill. Also for an Eisenhower dollar coin. Some people just don't know they are real.

      On the other hand, this stuff isn't U.S. Currency--it's Federal Reserve Notes. That's a very important distinction.

      The last U.S. currency was issued by executive order of John F Kennedy. They were called Red Seal notes and were real money backed by gold and silver held by the U.S. Treasury. A little over $4 billion of the notes were released to compete directly with the Federal Reserve Notes. Shortly after that Kennedy was assassinated and directly after that all of the Red Seal notes were removed from circulation. Curious.

      Nice lens!

    • profile image

      Counterfeitmoneydetectors 6 years ago

      Great lens with a lot of details!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Love the $200 bill story! Useful info and great lens!

    • profile image

      RecycleRRR 6 years ago

      Great info! This will help a lot of people! Why, it even helped me!

    • profile image

      Edutopia 6 years ago

      @anonymous: You are right that it is illegal to write on money though the statute that prohibits this rarely gets enforced. The relevant statute by the way:

      "Whoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both."


      United States Code




      333. Mutilation of national bank obligations

    • profile image

      Edutopia 6 years ago

      Nice lens, good information to get out there.

    • AttorneyForFree profile image

      AttorneyForFree 6 years ago

      The quickest way to spot counterfeit money is, if it was printed by the Federal's counterfeit.

    • PositiveChristi1 profile image

      PositiveChristi1 6 years ago

      In England we get quite a few counterfeit £1 coins. As I have a keen interest in coin collecting I can spot them easily but mostly they go undetected.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      My thought on those counterfeit detection pens is that I was under the impression that it is illegal to deface currency. Maybe I'm wrong. I wonder if a retailer would take one that has hundreds of those marks from the pen on it?

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I always wonder if people have ever given any thought to the fact that all U.S. currency is counterfeit. How do you distinguish between the counterfeit notes that the Federal Reserve prints, and the ones the average novice counterfeiter prints?

    • SecondHandJoe LM profile image

      SecondHandJoe LM 6 years ago

      Haha! I love the $200 bill story! Gave me a good chuckle. Great idea for a lens! Well done, I 'liked' it a lot!

    • profile image

      ibakir 6 years ago

      same as you Inkhand :O

    • Inkhand profile image

      Inkhand 6 years ago

      After reading this lens I am now more wary of counterfeit money. A useful lens.

    • craftblogger lm profile image

      craftblogger lm 6 years ago

      I rarely use cash anymore, but whenever I do, they always use the counterfeit money detector pens at the register to make sure the money is not counterfeit. I guess it's a good tool for seller protection...

    • NickyT LM profile image

      NickyT LM 6 years ago

      This is an incredibly complete and useful lens. Excellent piece of work here.

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 6 years ago from Virginia

      You get it it's yours. The Govey is not making refunds!

    • davies86 profile image

      davies86 6 years ago


    • desa999 lm profile image

      desa999 lm 6 years ago

      Intriguing lens. I've never seen this coverage before, well done.

    • SaintFrantic profile image

      SaintFrantic 6 years ago

      Great Lens

    • ictguyblog profile image

      ictguyblog 6 years ago

      @ResJes: Maybe G.W. Bush would put him on a bill... :D

    • elyria profile image

      elyria 6 years ago

      I remember there was a lot of counterfeit currency back in 90s in Russia and lots of "tools" and "gadgets" that supposedly were used to check for it.

    • goo2eyes lm profile image

      goo2eyes lm 6 years ago

      very useful lens thanks for sharing.

    • goo2eyes lm profile image

      goo2eyes lm 6 years ago

      people get conned because they don't know what to be aware of. i don't want to carry a counting machine all the time.

    • profile image

      huvalbd 6 years ago

      Useful information, well written, with some humor to liven it up. Hard to believe some people accepted fake money with Bush on them!

    • ResJes profile image

      Jessi 6 years ago from United States

      Nice lens! I like the $200 bill stories..who the hell would put G.W. Bush on a bill? haha!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      this is inf act a very good lens!

    • profile image

      sujaysen 7 years ago

      Very good and valuable info.

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 7 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      thanks for useful info.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 7 years ago

      It is useful to know... it will keep us out of trouble.

    • jvsper63 profile image

      jvsper63 7 years ago

      I imagine it's come across my hand's sometime in life.,just never knew.....

    • JeremiahStanghini profile image

      JeremiahStanghini 7 years ago

      An important lens!

      With Love and Gratitude,


    • Philippians468 profile image

      Philippians468 7 years ago

      spend more time with the real stuff and the fake will be very obvious to the touch! cheers

    • profile image

      yourgoldenfuture 7 years ago

      interesting infos

    • thesuccess2 profile image

      thesuccess2 7 years ago

      I guess the $200 bill is a bit obvious!

    • polly72 lm profile image

      polly72 lm 7 years ago

      Good Stuff

    • profile image

      KDimmick 7 years ago

      Very informatiive

    • Dawoud-Williams profile image

      D Williams 7 years ago

      Pretty serious, a $200 dollar bill. Sheesh, Give me a break. That's funny.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Great lens. I didn't know all these ways to spot counterfeit.

    • emmaklarkins profile image

      emmaklarkins 7 years ago

      Great info! Blessed by a Squidoo Angel!

    • puzzlerpaige profile image

      puzzlerpaige 7 years ago

      I worked in the printing industry for many years and have heard stories of money being printed. Once, a local copy shop's employee tried to use their color copier to copy money. This was when color copiers first came out. Of course they were caught.

    • Mortira profile image

      Mortira 7 years ago

      I used to love finding fake bills at work. They're usually so poorly made that you can tell right away that something is fishy. I've even seen them with edges that were cut with scissors!

    • howdoyouspellst profile image

      howdoyouspellst 7 years ago

      Wow!! Great information. Thanks!

    • capriliz lm profile image

      capriliz lm 7 years ago

      Good to know! The bills produced today are so intricately designed, that alone should thwart off counterfeiters! Guess not with those who are very serious about it.

    • profile image

      globalvision 8 years ago

      Great lens. I am an ex-banker, and know that most counterfeit money passes through unsuspecting businesses, so this is a great learning tool for them.

    • HorseAndPony LM profile image

      HorseAndPony LM 8 years ago

      This was very interesting. Thanks for sharing all this great info!

    • Dee Gallemore profile image

      Dee Gallemore 8 years ago

      Very informative lens, giving great tips on how to spot counterfeit money . . . 5*!

    • SueM11 profile image

      Sue Mah 8 years ago from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

      Wouldn't be able to spot one even after your lesson! Great lens!

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 9 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      One reason I prefer to stick with debit cards -- no worry about counterfeits. Great details here!

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 9 years ago

      Very interesting!


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