25 Jun 20

Counterfeiting Laws, Charges and Statute of Limitations

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Last Updated on: 4th August 2023, 08:26 pm

Counterfeiting refers to passing off fake items as real ones. Most people relate this crime with making fake money, but it applies to a whole spectrum of goods as well. Generally, counterfeiting is a felony, which is to say that it is a serious crime. The law looks harshly on those who attempt to deceive unsuspecting third parties, which is why punishment for passing off goods or money tends to be extremely severe. Here is all you need to know about counterfeiting laws, charges, punishment, and when the statute of limitations applies to this crime.

Counterfeiting Money

According to US law, it is only the Department of Treasury that is empowered to print notes and coin US currency. This happens in its two mints. Anyone else who attempts to create US money commits the federal crime of counterfeiting money.

Altering currency will also amount to counterfeiting cash. A popular form of altering money involves combining different notes so that they form a complete note. If you are caught doing this, you will be charged with counterfeiting.

Even if you are not involved in the creation of fake money, distributing it knowingly will also lead to arrest and felony charges. This includes acts such as depositing it in a bank, using it to buy items, or even selling it to innocent buyers. For you to be charged with this crime, you must know the money you are using is fake money. This is termed as intent to defraud in criminal law and is intended to protect those who transact with fake cash without knowing it.

Counterfeiting also applies to creating fake government bonds, treasury bills, and Federal reserve notes. Making these critical financial instruments without authorization is indeed a grievous offense that can earn you decades in jail.

Possession of the materials used to make money can also land you in legal trouble. This includes having the specific type of paper on which money is printed, ink, and the security thread that is present in all notes. Having such items is considered criminal since it is assumed that you were to use them to make fake money.

Counterfeiting Goods

Counterfeiting can also involve passing off fake goods as real ones. This will typically take the form of manufacturers labeling inferior goods using well-known brands, then getting people to buy believing them to be the better-known brands. A simple example is a manufacturer giving a T-shirt a Gucci label if the luxury brand does not make it, or passing off a cheap handbag as a Louis Vuitton product.

From a legal standpoint, companies whose products are counterfeited would benefit more by suing under trademark law violations. This is because they can be able to claim damages for the losses they might have sustained from such actions. Sometimes, however, the sheer volume of counterfeited goods can be so immense and the perpetrators so elusive for the companies to bother.

This is where criminal law comes to the rescue. Since slapping on labels on inferior goods is a felony, those who do so can be arrested and charged in court. This is especially true of those who ship fake goods in bulk across national borders. The losses that counterfeit goods cause companies is enormous, which is why the law tries to deter such actions.

Counterfeiting Charges and Punishment

If you are caught making or distributing fake cash or goods, you will be charged with the felony of counterfeiting. Typically, punishment for this crime varies depending on the circumstances of each case. The maximum punishment for counterfeiting is 20 years in jail. Where there are special circumstances, like where the instruments counterfeited were foreign, the punishment can be extended to 25 years.

Counterfeiting can also earn you a hefty fine. Fines can be as high as $250,000, although this will depend on the unique circumstances of your case.

The Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations generally applies where such a long time has passed since the commission of a crime that a person can no longer be arrested and charged with it. Concerning counterfeiting, the statute of limitations applies once five years have passed. However, if the counterfeit goods or cash were used to facilitate terrorism in any way, the statute applies only after eight years.


Counterfeiting is a serious crime that has dire consequences. If you are charged with it, your best move is to hire an experienced criminal law attorney, especially one who specializes in counterfeit law. Their expertise will come in handy when you need it the most.