27 Nov 23

What to Do If You’re Arrested for Using Fake Bills Unknowingly

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Last Updated on: 15th December 2023, 12:57 pm

What to Do If You’re Arrested for Using Fake Bills Unknowingly

Getting arrested is scary enough, but getting arrested for something you didn’t even know you did? That’s a whole new level of freaky. But it happens more often than you’d think. Let’s say you unknowingly use a counterfeit $20 to buy a coffee. The cashier suspects it’s fake, calls the cops, and next thing you know you’re in handcuffs for forgery. What do you do?

First, don’t panic. Easier said than done, I know. But freaking out won’t help, it’ll only make things worse. Take some deep breaths. Stay calm and cooperative with the police. Being combative or argumentative will not help your case.

Get a Lawyer

This is crucial. Do not say anything to the police without a lawyer present. Be polite, but firm: “I will not answer any questions without my attorney present.” This is your constitutional right under the 5th Amendment. Anything you say can be used against you, so keep your mouth shut until your lawyer arrives. Call a friend or family member to help find an attorney.

A lawyer experienced in criminal defense will advise you on the best legal strategy. Forgery charges are serious, with penalties ranging from fines to years in prison depending on the amount and location (state laws vary). An attorney knows how to build the strongest defense to get charges reduced or dismissed.

Don’t Make Excuses

When questioned, don’t make excuses like “I didn’t know it was fake!” As convincing as that may be, it’s still an admission of guilt that you passed counterfeit currency. Instead, politely decline to answer all questions without your lawyer present. Your attorney will handle explaining the situation.

Assert Your Innocence

Understand that legally, ignorance is not innocence. Even unknowingly using counterfeit money is a crime. But there are defenses that could lead to acquittal:

  • You received the bill as payment from someone else, so you were unaware it was fake when you used it. Tracing the bill’s origins could identify the true counterfeiter.
  • You have no history of forgery or counterfeiting. As a law-abiding citizen with no criminal record, you had no criminal intent.
  • You used the bill unknowingly in good faith that it was real currency. You had no intent to defraud or commit a crime.
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Your lawyer may argue one of these defenses to prove your innocence. Be cooperative in explaining how you unknowingly came to use the counterfeit bill.

Get the Bill Examined

The key evidence is the fake bill itself. Get it examined by a forensic specialist. They can analyze the paper, ink, printing process etc. to show the bill’s origins and flaws revealing it as counterfeit. This evidence could trace it back to the real counterfeiter and exonerate you.

Beware “Secret Service” Scams

Sometimes the “police” who show up are actually con artists running a scam. They’ll claim to be Secret Service, flashing fake badges, and demand you pay a “fine” on the spot or face arrest. Real agents don’t do this. Ask for credentials, contact their agency to confirm, and refuse to pay anything until you consult your attorney.

Cooperate Fully With Authorities

While you should not speak about the case without your lawyer, be cooperative in other ways. Turn over the bill in question and provide fingerprints or DNA samples if requested. This demonstrates you have nothing to hide and are willing to aid the investigation into the real criminal.

Accept a Plea Bargain Carefully

If the evidence is stacked against you, the prosecutor may offer a plea deal with a reduced sentence, like probation. Your lawyer will advise if this is your best option, but be cautious about pleading guilty. Make sure the deal is contingent on the judge’s approval, so you don’t end up with jail time.

Request a Diversion Program

These programs allow first-time offenders to avoid conviction through completing community service, restitution, counseling, etc. Your record stays clean if you successfully complete the requirements. It shows your willingness to take responsibility without the lifelong consequences of a conviction.

Don’t Flee!

Whatever you do, don’t try to evade law enforcement. That will make you appear extremely guilty, get you charged with additional crimes, and eliminate any chance of getting the forgery charges dropped. Stay put, follow your attorney’s advice, and let the justice system run its course.

How to Avoid This Situation

To steer clear of fake bill trouble, inspect all bills closely when you receive them, especially from strangers. Compare them to real currency, looking for distinct red and blue fibers in the paper. Know the security features like watermarks and magnetic ink. The pen test isn’t foolproof, so learn what to look for. If a bill seems questionable, refuse it and politely ask for a different one. Report any suspicious bills to the police before attempting to use them. With vigilance, you can detect fakes before they land you in handcuffs.

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Getting arrested is a scary, stressful situation. But by staying calm, invoking your rights, and cooperating fully with your attorney, you can get through it. Being proactive about detecting fake bills can help avoid the mess altogether. With knowledge and care, you can steer clear of counterfeit currency woes.


Forgery of Currency – FindLaw
Defenses to Forgery & Counterfeiting Charges | Nolo
Some defenses to a charge of counterfeiting money
Know Your Money | U.S. Secret Service