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How to Spot Counterfeit U.S. Bills Using Eyes/Hands

Oct 12, 2007
Counterfeiting is once again on the rise with the lightning speed advancement of computer technology and worldwide access. A popular forgery method is digital printing using computer scanners and high-resolution printers. Professional money-printing presses use technologies similar to those of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing and produce high quality "supernotes" or "superdollars" that can easily fool an unwary or untrained eye. But despite the generally high quality, funny money is regularly detected at the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank cash offices and in financial institutions all over the globe.

Nonetheless, the U.S. Secret Service, whose responsibility it is to keep counterfeiting in check, requires public education and cooperation to crack down on this crime for the benefit of everyone. To that end the Secret Service has set up a handy and informative website with sections called How To Detect Counterfeit Money and Know Your Money to offer advice on how to guard against forgery losses. In the meantime, here are some quick pointers that use your eyeballs rather than technology for spotting fake bills.

All U.S. paper currency features a portrait of someone, likely a president or fondly remembered politician, who has been dead for a long time. When held up to the light, most real money displays a "ghost" image. This "ghost" is typically a faint image of the politician featured on the bill. Although it's on its way, U.S. currency does not yet include holograms. Real money also features the signature of someone from the treasury department, but this name will vary from time to time. And all paper money has a unique serial number.

Counterfeit notes can be identified in a number of other ways. For instance, they may differ in color, shade, or type of paper or vary in lines of design. A big red flag is if they're missing the distinctive red and blue threads which the US Treasury puts in the paper. If you suspect a bill is counterfeit, compare it with a real bill for specific evidence of counterfeiting.

Usually counterfeiters use a high-grade bond paper that gets soaked down it to give it the worn look and color of a real bill. This paper may have printed or hand-drawn red and blue fibers like those of true bills, but the fibers in a true bill can be lifted from the paper by a sharp instrument. Check for signs of watermarks on the paper by looking through the note toward a strong light. Watermarked paper is proof of a counterfeit. And check the edges of the paper for signs that two pieces of thin paper have been glued together.

To find out more about anti-counterfeiting features, new U.S. currency designs, and other money facts, visit the website of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Or see the web page of the Treasury Department Financial Crimes Enforcement Network for more information on fighting other financial crimes, including terrorism financing and money laundering.
About the Author
I Test Cash provides counterfeit money detector tools to help business and individual consumers to guard against the growing problem of currency counterfeiting.
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