The 8 Best Ways to Spot Counterfeit Money

Prescott Police Department
Prescott Police Department

The latest redesign of the U.S. $100 bill is set to enter circulation in October, and along with its sleeker look, the bill has new security features designed to thwart counterfeiters. For instance, some portions of the new $100 are printed in a color-shifting ink that would be extremely difficult for counterfeiters to duplicate: The Liberty Bell on the note will appear to shift from copper to green when the bill is tilted.

These changes to the bill are part of an ongoing effort to help distinguish real currency from fake. "It is a constantly evolving process of putting more and more features on the bill to allow the common citizen to detect counterfeit," said Ed Lowery, a special agent with the Secret Service.

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Most of the counterfeit notes that change hands now are computer-generated, and easily distinguishable from genuine U.S. currency under a bit of scrutiny. "The process utilized to manufacture genuine notes is so detailed that there are very few systems out there that can match that level of detail in the printing," Lowery said. People who hold both a real bill and a counterfeit bill in their hands should be able to notice a difference in texture between the two notes. From there, they can go on to look at other factors that would separate the two bills.

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Though technology has made counterfeiting easier, computer-generated notes are usually of low quality and are unlikely to pass muster with an informed merchant. Nevertheless, "most people don't realize that they have counterfeit [money] until they try to make a deposit at the bank or [spend it with] a merchant," said Joe DeSantis, an assistant special agent with the Secret Service.

Bars and nightclubs are easy places to exchange counterfeit money since they aren't well lit, said Jason Kersten, an expert on counterfeiting and the author of "The Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master Counterfeiter." To combat this, many of these establishments check their bills under ultraviolet lights, which can help to detect phonies.

If you want to avoid getting stuck with a counterfeit bill, the trick is simply knowing what to look for. These are the eight best ways to spot counterfeit money.


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Sources: These suggestions about what to look for to spot counterfeit money come from DeSantis, Lowery and Kersten, as well as information from the U.S. Secret Service's "Know Your Money" campaign.