NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS

27 Nov 23

Altering Genuine Currency to Change Value is Counterfeiting

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Last Updated on: 14th December 2023, 04:49 pm

 

Altering Genuine Currency to Change Value is Counterfeiting

Counterfeiting money has been around for centuries. As long as their has been valuable currency, their have been people trying to replicate it. But what about just altering existing money instead of making completely fake bills? Is changing the denomination or details on real money the same thing as counterfeiting? Well, according to the law, it absolutely is counterfeiting. Let’s take a look at what the law says, some examples, and the implications.

According to the United States Code, Section 471, “Whoever, with intent to defraud, alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the mints of the United States, or any foreign coins which are by law made current or are in actual use or circulation as money within the United States; or Whoever fraudulently possesses, passes, utters, publishes, or sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish, or sell, or brings into the United States, any such coin, knowing the same to be altered, defaced, mutilated, impaired, diminished, falsified, scaled, or lightened—Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

So right their in the legal code it states that altering coins or currency is illegal. It’s considered a form of counterfeiting. This law applies to both coins and paper currency.

Some examples of altering currency that would be considered counterfeiting include:

  • Changing the denomination – Such as changing a $1 to a $100
  • Removing details – Erasing parts of the bill to try to change it
  • Adding details – Drawing or stamping new details to change the look
  • Reassembling parts – Cutting and recombining parts of different bills

Even if you start with a real dollar bill, if you alter it in any way to change the value or details, you are committing counterfeiting under the law. This applies even if you only alter a portion of the bill. Simply possessing altered currency can be enough to be charged.

Some people may think this kind of alteration is different than actually printing fake money from scratch. But the law does not distinguish. Altering real money requires the same criminal intent as counterfeiting – the intent to defraud through changing the face value. So it is treated the same under the legal code.

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The implications for anyone caught altering currency can be severe. Since it is considered the same crime as counterfeiting, the penalties can be harsh. According to federal law, altering currency to change value carries a fine and up to 5 years in prison. The amount of the fine would depend on how much altered money the defendant possessed. More severe charges like money laundering could also come into play depending on the scope of the operation.

Some people have tried to argue that they should not be charged with counterfeiting if they only altered part of the bill, or used real currency as the starting material. But numerous court cases have upheld that any alteration with intent to change value is counterfeiting. For example, in United States v. Ross the court said “The fact that appellant started with genuine notes before altering them does not change the fact that the notes he completed were counterfeit.”

One legal defense that has been attempted is claiming that the altered currency was an artistic creation, not meant to defraud. In some cases, artists have tried altering money and claiming it was protected free speech. But the courts have ruled that while artistic alteration itself may be legal, it’s not a defense against counterfeiting charges if there was intent to use the money fraudulently. The government only has to prove that the defendant posessed or tried to use the altered bills.

While most counterfeiters tend to make completely fake bills, alteration can seem like an easier shortcut. With today’s technology, anyone with a basic printer and some craft supplies can make small changes to currency. But it’s important to remember that altering real cash carries the same criminal penalties as printing fake cash from scratch. So while it may be the “easy” way to counterfeit, it has hard consequences if you get caught.

The next time you look at some cash and have an urge to get creative with scissors or markers, remember the law is not on your side. Any changes made with the intent to alter the value is counterfeiting. Instead, get your art fix on paper not in your wallet! And let your money represent its true value determined by the government, not your craft skills. The penalties for counterfeiting through alteration are severe, and not worth the risk just to make a few artistic bucks.