How To Detect Counterfeit Money

01
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Don't Lose Money on Counterfeits

Pile of new series American money twenty on top.
nkbimages / Getty Images

 While only about one or two in 10,000 notes is counterfeit, if you end up with that rare fake, you will lose your hard-earned money. Counterfeit bills cannot be turned in for genuine ones, and knowingly passing along a counterfeit is illegal. Here's how to spot a fake.

02
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What to Look for in the Portrait

Portrait
Portrait. Secret Service

Look at the money you receive. Compare a suspect note with a genuine note of the same denomination and series, paying attention to the quality of printing and paper characteristics. Look for differences, not similarities.

The genuine portrait appears lifelike and stands out distinctly from the background. The counterfeit portrait is usually lifeless and flat. Details merge into the background which is often too dark or mottled.

03
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Federal Reserve and Treasury Seals

Seals
Seals. U.S. Secret Service
On a genuine bill, the saw-tooth points of the Federal Reserve and Treasury seals are clear, distinct, and sharp. The counterfeit seals may have uneven, blunt, or broken saw-tooth points.
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Border

Border
Border. U.S. Secret Service
The fine lines in the border of a genuine bill are clear and unbroken. On the counterfeit, the lines in the outer margin and scrollwork may be blurred and indistinct.
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Serial Numbers

Serial Numbers
Serial Numbers. U.S. Secret Service
Genuine serial numbers have a distinctive style and are evenly spaced. The serial numbers are printed in the same ink color as the Treasury Seal. On a counterfeit, the serial numbers may differ in color or shade of ink from the Treasury seal. The numbers may not be uniformly spaced or aligned.
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Paper

Paper
Paper. U.S. Secret Service
Genuine currency paper has tiny red and blue fibers embedded throughout. Often counterfeiters try to simulate these fibers by printing tiny red and blue lines on their paper. Close inspection reveals, however, that on the counterfeit note the lines are printed on the surface, not embedded in the paper. It is illegal to reproduce the distinctive paper used in the manufacturing of United States currency.
07
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Raised Notes

Genuine paper currency is sometimes altered in an attempt to increase its face value. One common method is to glue numerals from higher denomination notes to the corners of lower denomination notes.

These bills are also considered counterfeit, and those who produce them are subject to the same penalties as other counterfeiters. If you suspect you are in possession of a raised note:

  • Compare the denomination numerals on each corner with the denomination written out at the bottom of the note (front and back) and through the Treasury seal.
  • Compare the suspect note to a genuine note of the same denomination and series year, paying particular attention to the portrait, vignette and denomination numerals.
08
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The New $50 Dollar Bill

The New $50 Dollar Bill
The New $50 Dollar Bill. Bureau of Engraving & Printing

While current estimates put the rate of counterfeit $50 notes in circulation worldwide at less than 1 note for every 25,000 genuine $50 notes in circulation, if you end up with that rare fake, you will lose your hard-earned money. Counterfeit bills cannot be turned in for genuine ones, and knowingly passing along a counterfeit is illegal.

Easy-to-use security features help people check their U.S. money:

  • Watermark: a faint image, similar to the portrait, which is part of the paper itself and is visible from both sides when held up to the light.
  • Security thread: also visible from both sides when held up to the light, this vertical strip of plastic is embedded in the paper and spells out the denomination in tiny print.
  • Color-shifting ink: the numeral in the lower right corner on the face of the note, indicating its denomination, changes color when the note is tilted. For the new currency, this color shift is more dramatic. It changes from copper to green, making it even easier for people to check their money.
09
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Easy-to-Use Security Features Help People Check Their U.S. money:

The New $20 Dollar Bill
The New $20 Dollar Bill. Bureau of Engraving & Printing
  • Watermark: a faint image, similar to the portrait, which is part of the paper itself and is visible from both sides when held up to the light.

  • Security thread: also visible from both sides when held up to the light, this vertical strip of plastic is embedded in the paper and spells out the denomination in tiny print.
  • Color-shifting ink: the numeral in the lower right corner on the face of the note, indicating its denomination, changes color when the note is tilted. For the new currency, this color shift is more dramatic. It changes from copper to green, making it even easier for people to check their money.