Handling Counterfeit Currency

How to Detect Counterfeit Currency
(Source: United States Secret Service)

There is no single, best way to identify counterfeit currency. However, these guidelines may help to identify some of the more common features of counterfeit notes. If possible, examine several genuine notes and compare their features to those on the suspected counterfeit note. If you ever doubt the authenticity of a note you receive, contact your local United States Secret Service office. (Off-site Link)

  • Portrait
    The genuine portrait appears lifelike and stands out distinctly from the background. A counterfeit portrait is usually lifeless and flat, or may seem unnaturally white. Often, portrait details merge into the background, which can be too dark or mottled.
  • Federal Reserve and Treasury Seals
    On a genuine note, the saw-tooth points of the Federal Reserve and Treasury seals (pre-1996 notes) are clear, distinct, and sharp. On counterfeits, the seals may have uneven, blunt, or broken saw-tooth points.
  • Border
    The fine lines in the border of a genuine note are clear and unbroken. On a counterfeit, the lines in the outer margin and scrollwork may be blurred and indistinct.
  • Serial Numbers
    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 also may not appear uniformly spaced or aligned.
  • Paper
    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 typically reveals the lines are printed on the surface on a counterfeit note, instead of embedded in the paper.
  • Watermark
    Beginning with the 1996 series, each denomination bears a watermark depicting the same historical figure as the portrait, positioned to the right of the portrait.
  • Toner Technology
    Many copiers in use employ electrostatic transfer of toner to make copies. Counterfeits produced this way often have small particles of toner that appear outside the image areas of the note. These toner particles can be seen clearly under magnification.
  • Ink Jet Technology
    In some cases, ink jet computer printers are used to produce counterfeit notes. Because this type of counterfeit is made using scanned images and droplets of inks to create the reproduction, the note will not appear as sharp as a genuine note and often excess ink droplets can be seen, without magnification, in the unprinted areas of the note.

If You Receive A Counterfeit
(Source: United States Secret Service)

  • Do not return it to the passer.
  • Delay the passer if possible.
  • Observe the passer's description, as well as that of any companions, and the license numbers of any vehicles used.
  • Contact your local police department or United States Secret Service field office. These numbers can be found on the inside front page of your local telephone directory.
  • Write your initials and the date in the white border areas of the suspect note.
  • Limit the handling of the note. Carefully place it in a protective covering, such as an envelope.
  • Surrender the note or coin only to a properly identified police officer or a U.S. Secret Service special agent.

Additional information about U.S. currency and dealing with counterfeit currency can be found at the U.S. Secret Service Web site. (Off-site Link)

Additional information about the new security features found in the Series 1996 $20, $50 and $100 notes; and the 1999 Series $5 and $10 notes can be found at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing Web site. (Off-site Link)

For more information about FedCash® Services processing and operations, visit the service offerings pages or consult your local FedCash Services contact.

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