Seven Tips to Help Identify Counterfeit American Money

Updated on August 11, 2017
Kosmo profile image

Kelley worked for six months at Sacramento Rapid Transit, where he sorted paper money and ran the bill-counting machine.

Is this bill counterfeit?
Is this bill counterfeit?
Fake dollar bill
Fake dollar bill
$10 bill with security strip (top to bottom, right of center)
$10 bill with security strip (top to bottom, right of center)
The old C-note and a new one (bottom)
The old C-note and a new one (bottom)

A Rapid Transit employee tells how to spot bogus bucks


The United States government estimates that less than one-hundredth of one per cent (0.01 %) of the paper money in circulation is counterfeit. Does this figure seem high or low? Who would know?

Well, maybe I would. I’ve worked at the local department of regional transit, sorting and counting paper money taken in by bus drivers and light rail machines, so maybe I have a good idea how much counterfeit money is being circulated. As far as I can tell, the aforementioned percentage seems accurate. Every day, out of tens of thousands of dollars of currency collected, we find on the average half a dozen or more bogus bills.

Fake $5 and $10 bills are received the most, and some $20 bills have been passed as well. Amazingly, even $1 and $2 counterfeit bills are circulated, which the government doesn’t expect, because such money is not supposed to be worth the paper on which it’s printed!

Keep in mind, knowingly passing counterfeit money is a felony, yet many people still do it just to pay for a bus ride. Imagine that!

Also, some counterfeit money is so bad the reverse side of the bill was left blank!

Interestingly, during colonial times counterfeiters were severely punished. Many were hanged and at least one woman was burned at the stake!

Let’s find out how to spot counterfeit currency. You could become an expert in just a few minutes. Here’s your step-by-step guide:

1. Feel the texture of the bill

The composition of the paper used to make Federal Reserve Notes is supposed to be a secret; therefore, the paper is not commercially available. But it’s common knowledge the paper - actually more of a fabric - is about 75 per cent cotton and 25 per cent linen.

So when you get a questionable bill, run your fingers over it. Does the paper have crispness, gloss and elasticity, like all good American paper money? Or does it feel like common writing paper? If the answer to the latter question is yes, then you’ve got nothing but waste paper!

Security pens can be purchased to check the authenticity of the paper. You simply rub the pen on the bill and a dark brown or gray color means the money is counterfeit, while a gold color means it's genuine. But at regional transit we rarely use such a pen, as we’re accustomed to the “feel” of genuine U.S. greenbacks. During our high-tech age, this is still the easiest way to spot bogus bills!

Also, the printing on genuine American “frogskins” has a raised feel to it, due to the intaglio printing process used by the feds.

Be that as it may, according to an article on the Newhouse Communication Center, in early 2011 fake $100 bills were in circulation in Central New York. Since these bills were made from bleached-out $5 bills, the paper was genuine. Keep your eyes out for those impressive fakes!

2. Compare bills of similar denominations and series (or date)

If you find a questionable $20 bill, for instance, take another genuine twenty with a similar series or date and then compare the features of both. Everything should match, of course. Incidentally, all denominations except, $1 and $2, have been redesigned at least once since 1990.

3. Look for the quality of printing on the bill

The quality of printing on many counterfeit bills is impressive. Crooks use scanners and color inkjet printers to make their phony "lettuce." Nevertheless, the printing on genuine U.S. paper money is always sharp and clearly defined. If you find fuzzy or smeared letters or numbers, then you’ve identified an American BS bill!

4. Look for blue and red fibers

Take a magnifying glass, and look for blue and red fibers in the paper of the bill. These fibers should actually be within the paper, not on top of it. Some counterfeiters have actually painted on such fibers. Can you believe it?

5. Study the serial numbers

Make sure the serial numbers on bills are evenly spaced and properly aligned. Also, if you get a number of bills of the same denomination, look to see if they all have the same serial number. No two bills should have the same serial numbers. Counterfeiters will often try to pass a wad of their fake bills at one time, with each bill having the same serial number!

6. Watch for security features

All bills, except for the $1 and $2 denominations, have security features such as the following:

Polyester security strips

Many bills have a plastic security strip running from top to bottom, with the denomination of the bill imprinted on the strip. These strips are placed in a different position on each denomination to discourage counterfeiters from using smaller bills to make larger denominations. Also, when viewing under a black light, these strips will glow a different color for each denomination.

Moreover, these security strips have a magnetic element, which counting machines try to detect during the process of authenticating genuine bills.

Watermarks

Watermarks are ghost images seen to the right of the portraits on each bill. (It helps to hold the bill up to the light to see these images.) Denominations of $10, $20, $50 and $100 have had watermarks included since 1996, whereas the $5 bill has had them since 1999. These watermarks show a ghost image of the portrait or the number of the denomination. Only the very best counterfeit money will include watermarks!

Color-shifting ink

Bills made since 1996 have color-shifting ink. Simply tilt the bill under a light source and notice how the color changes from green to black or copper to green.

Micro-printing

Since 1990, bills of $5 denomination or higher now include micro-printing, which can be found in different places on each denomination. When studying suspect money, if this micro-printing is what and where it’s supposed to be, it should also be very easy to read; otherwise, you’ve got funny money!

Intaglio images

Some genuine bills have intaglio (raised) images or numbers. The current $10 bill is an excellent example of this tactic. Look in the lower right-hand portion of the bill, astride the serial number, where the liberty flame and the number 10 can be found. This is a texturally pleasing aspect of this altogether pretty greenback!

Security ribbons

The new one hundred dollars bills, also known as Benjamins, have a blue security ribbon running from top to bottom through the center of the bill. As you tilt the bill, thousands of microlenses in the ribbon reveal tiny Liberty Bells, and then these images transform to a “100” pattern, if the bill is tilted again.

7. Beware: bills can be altered after printing

Bills can be changed somewhat after the printing process. I’ve seen $5 bills, in particular, on which somebody, using a pen or pencil or whatever, added a security strip and/or watermark! Some of these fakes can look convincing, without a closer look, which usually exposes them as bogus. Always remember the security strip should glow in UV light and always be arrow straight.

Afterword

The war against counterfeiting will continue as long as currency is circulated. In the U.S. at least, the federal government seems to be winning the war, since the rate of counterfeiting is very low and will probably stay that way unless crooks can gain a technological advantage of some kind.

As for the $5 bill at the top of the article, the author can’t tell if it’s fake or genuine. Maybe somebody simply added “artwork” to a greenback, or it could be waste paper. You make the call.

Please leave a comment.

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Kelley Marks

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        Kosmo 

        2 years ago

        Thanks for the comment, James Bergman. If you don't trust your sense of touch, look for the security strips and water marks on American money - they're very hard to fake!

      • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

        Kelley Marks 

        5 years ago from California

        Videos are good, Naeem Khan, but I think my text suffices - at least in this case. Later!

      • profile image

        Naeem khan 

        5 years ago

        Well information

        But it would be much better if videos shown too

      • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

        Kelley Marks 

        6 years ago from California

        Those pens used to authenticate money will show a gold color if the paper is genuine. Black or brown colors indicate the bill is fake. Also keep in mind that a bill from 1950 will have no security features - no security strip or watermark, so you can't look for those. My guess is that somebody used a scanner to copy an old bill and then passed it, thinking nobody would suspect someone passing a counterfiet greenback from 1950. I'd have to see it to be sure, but it's probably bogus. Hope I helped you. Later!

      • profile image

        annonimous 

        6 years ago

        i have a $10 bill from 1950 and i took it to the store and turned light brown/not black.. and they didn't want to take it... i got @ college.. what should i do, or it's a fake bill??

      • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

        Kelley Marks 

        6 years ago from California

        Thanks for the comment, vinayak1000. It's been fun learning about counterfeit money while earning a paycheck. Later!

      • vinayak1000 profile image

        vinayak1000 

        6 years ago from Minneapolis

        very comprehensive indeed

      • kj force profile image

        kjforce 

        6 years ago from Florida

        ahh..but I did take remaining bills back to bank..they are required to confisgate...HOWEVER..they are not required to reimburse customer.REGARDLESS...due to the fact it could be a scam.....had I immediately BEFORE LEAVING BANK in the beginning, had any inclination they were bad they would have exchanged the $..LIKE I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THAT !!!!

      • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

        Kelley Marks 

        6 years ago from California

        Thanks for the comment, rwelton. I'm glad you appreciate the article.

        As for you kj force, I'm sorry you got some bogus bills from the bank. I think you should have returned them to the bank that gave them to you and raised hell if they hadn't taken them back. Banks should know better than to pass funny money! Also, I wouldn't give counterfeit money to a street person or anyone elese. Thanks for stopping by. Later!

      • kj force profile image

        kjforce 

        6 years ago from Florida

        Kosmos...thank you..I wish I had read this before going to Key West...went to my bank before leaving on vacation ( many small private owned shops/roadside) do not take credit cards...Spent $ along the way..finally went to a produce stand where the owner scanned my $IT WAS BOGUS ! I ask him if he would check a few more...they were ALL bogus..( my bank issued them )..dilemma do I return them to bank and loose all OR just try to pass them on ? I chose to pass on...even gave to a couple street people....Bad idea I know...oh well...think I'll do a hub...

      • rwelton profile image

        rwelton 

        6 years ago from Sacramento CA

        Should be required reading for all retailing staff.

        rlw

      • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

        Kelley Marks 

        6 years ago from California

        Thanks for the comment, Paul Kuehn. My current job has me working with counterfeit money. You gotta love it! Later!

      • Paul Kuehn profile image

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

        This is a very awesome hub, and you certainly know how to identify counterfeit money. I certainly hope I never get stuck with a bad bill, but I certainly know now what to check for if a large note seems suspicious. Voted up and sharing.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, soapboxie.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://soapboxie.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)