April 15, 2024

How to Identify Counterfeit Currency – It’s Harder Than You Think

$100If someone slipped you a counterfeit bill, would you be able to identify it?  Although the government constantly adds new security features to United States currency, counterfeiting continues to increase.  The Secret Service, which is responsible for safeguarding the nation’s currency and payments system, has admitted that counterfeiting remains a threat to the nation’s economy and its citizens.

With the proliferation of high quality scanners, computers, inkjet printers, and color copiers, counterfeiting has become a tempting crime for criminals who can produce $100 dollar bills at a fraction of the bill’s face value.  In 2012 the Secret Service seized about $66 million in fake bills but the amount of counterfeit bills in circulation is unknown, perhaps because some of them are of such high quality that the average consumer is unable to distinguish them from the real thing.

The problem of counterfeit U.S. currency is an urgent matter not only in the United States but world wide.  Many countries use the dollar as their de facto currency and consumers in foreign countries often prefer the U.S. dollar since they consider it safer than the paper currency issued by their own government.  For various reasons, demand for the U.S. $100 bill appears almost insatiable with the Federal Reserve constantly underestimated the international demand for $100 bills.  Of an estimated $863.1 billion of $100 bills in circulation in 2012 it is believed that 50% to 75% of the bills are held abroad.

There was considerable concern at all levels of government in the mid 2000’s when counterfeit $100 bills began appearing worldwide which were so skillfully produced that many of them could not even be identified as fakes by many currency experts.  Theses fake $100 bills became known as Super Notes due to the fact that they were almost indistinguishable from genuine $100 bills.  It is believed that these notes had to be produced by other governments rather than individual forgers due to the very high quality of the note and the fact that the special presses used to print money are sold only to governments.

Could you identify counterfeit currency if you were passed a bad bill?

Here are five tips from the Secret Service on how to identify counterfeit currency. The genuine item is shown first with an example of a counterfeit below it.


A genuine bill has sharp lifelike details and stands out from the background compared to a fake bill which is often times too mottled or dark.

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Federal Reserve and Treasury Seals

Genuine bills have clear, distinct, and sharp saw-tooth points compared to counterfeit bills which often have broken, uneven, or blunt lines.

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A genuine note has fine lines which are unbroken and clear compared to counterfeits which often have scroll work that is blurred and indistinct.

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Serial Numbers

The serial numbers of a genuine bill are evenly spaced and printed in the same color as the Treasury Seal.  Counterfeit bills often have misaligned numbers with poor spacing and the ink color may vary in the color or shade of ink from the Treasury Seal.

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Genuine United States currency is produced from a special paper made of 75% cotton and 25% linen and is produced by Crane & Co which is the only supplier of currency paper to the U.S. Treasury.  Genuine U.S. currency has tiny red and blue fibers embedded in the paper which can be readily identified.

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It’s probably worth looking at your money a little more carefully when someone hands you some currency since the Secret Service can seize counterfeit money without compensation even if you are an innocent victim who was passed bad money by a criminal.

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