3 Quick and Easy Ways to Spot Counterfeit Cash

Almost everyone, at least once, has come across a counterfeit bill. If one of these banknotes made its way into your wallet, you probably didn't even realize it until you tried to use it and a cashier handed it back to you with a professional smile. It's likely to occur at some point, no matter how careful and alert you are. But it's an unexpected and embarrassing situation that you'd like to avoid.

Here are three easy ways to test whether a bill is a fake.

1. Feel — Rub an authentic banknote between your fingers then rub the suspected counterfeit the same way. Pay attention to how they both feel. Are they the same or does one feel different? Most banknotes are made of special paper that has a distinctive consistency and is very different from the ordinary paper. Legitimate currency often has areas printed with slightly raised ink, a feature rarely reproduced by counterfeiters. This simple test can be used for all types of bills, including polymer notes, and is especially valid for low to medium value bills.

2. Look — If you're still not sure, compare the suspect bill to the authentic one, with particular attention to color tone and intensity. The printing quality of the visual details, especially the smaller ones, should be very sharp and defined. Counterfeit bills will have dull or even incorrect colors and blurry details, particularly the smallest details. Check the alignment of the serial numbers; figures which are not perfectly aligned may indicate a counterfeit.

3. Tilt — If you still suspect the bill is a fake, take a closer look at a few more sophisticated security features that are observed by tilting and moving the bill. Authentic currency contains a combination of features including embedded threads, iridescent color-changing printed details, watermarks and holograms.  

  • Check the thread by holding the bill to a light source. You should see a solid dark line with clear and very neatly shaped characters within, usually featuring the value of the bill itself.
  • Check the coloring shifting or iridescent ink feature, generally used on one of the many repeated figures stating the face value of the note, by tilting the bill to verify the ink color changes.
  • Check a hologram, by moving the bill to verify the hologram reveals different images, usually two, which alternately appear during movement and have a clear sense of depth.
  • Check a portrait watermark, by verifying that the watermarked portrait is visible from both sides of the bill and matches the portrait featured on that denomination.

There is also a fourth way to verify the authenticity of a banknote: using technology. Only a device with bill validation technology, such as a cash recycler, can give you absolute certainty about the authenticity of a suspect banknote. This technology verifies these security features in seconds.

But if you don't have access to such a device, you can use these techniques which take less time to do than the time it took to read this post. You'll lower your risk of unwittingly accepting or distributing counterfeit bills, sparing you social embarrassment. And you'll be more cash-aware while keeping your peace of mind. And that's something truly priceless.