27 Nov 23

How to Spot Counterfeit Money and Avoid Federal Charges

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Last Updated on: 5th December 2023, 02:54 am


How to Spot Counterfeit Money and Avoid Federal Charges

Counterfeit money has been around for centuries. As long as real money has value, their will be criminals trying to produce fake money to steal that value. But passing counterfeit bills is a serious crime that can lead to jail time and big fines. This article will teach you how to spot fake money so you don’t accidentally pass it. We’ll also give tips on what to do if you find yourself caught with counterfeit bills.

The Different Kinds of Fake Money

Their are a few different ways criminals make counterfeit money:

  • Offset printing – This uses traditional printing presses and ink to try to replicate the look and feel of real money. Offset printed counterfeits often lack the fine details of real bills.
  • “Bleached bills” – Real currency that has been bleached and reprinted to look like a higher denomination. For example, bleaching a $1 and reprinting it as a $20.
  • Digital printing – With modern technology, some counterfeits are made using digital printers. These can sometimes look more realistic than offset prints.
  • Copied bills – Counterfeiters may scan real money and print color copies. These are usually easy to spot but sometimes pass in a hurry.

How to Spot Fake Bills

Luckily, no matter how its made their are usually telltale signs that give counterfeit money away:

1. Feel the Paper

Real U.S. bills are made from a blend of 25% linen and 75% cotton. This gives them a distinct crisp feel. Counterfeit bills often feel more like common paper or construction paper. Rub the bill and compare it to a known real bill to feel for a difference.

2. Check the Portrait

On real money, the portrait should stand out lifelike from the background. On fakes, the portrait often looks “flat” and blends into the background. Examine the eyes, nose, and lips of the portrait closely.

3. Look at the Colors

While counterfeiters can sometimes mimic the basic green and black ink colors, they often have trouble matching the exact shades used on real bills. Compare the suspect bill’s coloring to a real bill. The fake may look “off.”

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4. Check for Blurry Details

Real U.S. currency has tons of tiny, crisp details in the borders and images. Fakes often lack these details – look closely at the hair, eyes, borders, etc. If things look blurry or “blobby,” it’s probably counterfeit.

5. Examine the Seals

The Treasury Seal to the right of the portrait and the Federal Reserve Seal on the left are both complex designs on real bills. Fakes often have seals that look uneven, fuzzy or incomplete.

6. Look for Security Features

Real bills have advanced security features that are hard for counterfeiters to duplicate, like color-shifting ink, watermarks, and security threads. Learn what security features your bill denomination should have and verify them.

7. Trust Your Instincts

With experience, you can get a “feel” for real money. If a bill just doesn’t look right or feel right, it may be fake. Your subconscious may notice errors before you consciously identify them.

What To Do If You Find Counterfeit Money

If you suspect you have a counterfeit bill, don’t try to pass it on. That could land you in legal trouble even if you didn’t make it yourself. Instead:

  • Contact local police – Voluntarily surrendering counterfeit bills to police is not illegal.
  • Call the U.S. Secret Service – They investigate fake currency and may want to trace where it came from.
  • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission.
  • If banks gave you the bill, notify them.

As long as you report fake bills instead of spending them, you should not face charges. Intentionally passing counterfeit currency or manufacturing it yourself carries heavy penalties though.

Penalties for Counterfeiting Money

Under federal law, manufacturing counterfeit U.S. currency, or altering real currency to increase its value, is illegal. This includes bleaching low-value bills and reprinting them as higher denominations. Penalties include:

  • Up to 20 years in prison.
  • Fines up to $250,000.

Knowingly using counterfeit bills or possessing them is also illegal, though penalties are less severe:

  • Up to 15 years in prison.
  • Fines up to $15,000.

Defenses like being unaware bills were counterfeit or receiving them accidentally can help reduce penalties. But claiming ignorance won’t necessarily prevent charges.

Avoiding Counterfeit Money

While an honest mistake with counterfeit bills can happen to anyone, their are steps you can take to reduce risk:

  • Inspect bills, especially large denominations – Take an extra moment to check $20, $50, and $100 bills.
  • Know your money – Familiarize yourself with security features of different denominations.
  • Be careful with bleached bills – Lower denominations bleached and reprinted as higher ones are common.
  • Use pens – Counterfeit detector pens can spot fake ink.
  • Be wary of suspicious deals – If a deal seems too good to be true, the money may be counterfeit.
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The Future of Counterfeiting

Law enforcement is in an arms race with counterfeiters. As security features on currency become more advanced, counterfeiters attempt to mimic them. To stay ahead of the game, the U.S. regularly updates bill designs to introduce new features. However, old bills remain in circulation for years. This leaves plenty of opportunities for scammers to pass older counterfeits.

New technologies also aid counterfeiters. Scanners, computer graphics, and digital printing give conterfeiters powerful tools. The internet lets them share techniques and information more easily. Homebrew counterfeiting operations are becoming more sophisticated.

Perhaps the greatest near-future threat comes from abroad. The U.S. dollar is widely used globally, but foreign governments have less incentive to combat counterfeiting of it. Overseas operations produce incredibly realistic “supernotes” that flood into the U.S. These can be extremely difficult for average citizens to detect.

The bottom line is that counterfeiting will remain a problem for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it pays to learn how to spot fake bills yourself. With some knowledge and care, you can avoid being a victim of counterfeiters.