Counterfeiting is a multi-million-dollar industry with thousands of false notes being circulated around the world by criminals each year. As a coin and banknote collector, your senses and attention to detail are your best weapons when it comes to detecting counterfeits and protecting yourself against money fraud. Counterfeit bills often appear similar to real bills and it can be incredibly hard to tell the difference. Counterfeiters are constantly developing new methods and technologies to cheat the system and get fake bills into the hands of honest people and collectors. This article on how to detect counterfeit money will help you understand several ways to identify false notes, as well as what to do when you detect one.

Know Your Notes

Detecting counterfeit currency starts with really knowing your notes. While it’s possible to learn most or all of the security features on one type of money, collectors who deal with money from all over the world will have a much more difficult time identifying counterfeit notes from abroad. When you’re involved in a transaction for a specific type of banknote, make sure you do research beforehand into the specific security features associated with that currency.Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all security features are the same, or that the methods you’re used to using for US dollars can be universally applied. Once you’ve learned the general methods for detecting counterfeit notes, you’ll have to do specific research to determine what security features you can validate for the notes you’re analyzing.

Compact Stand Magnifier, 8x Magnification, Adjustable Focus Ring
Source: Banknote World

Detect Counterfeits by Feel

One of the difficulties that counterfeiters face is producing counterfeit banknotes that feel the same as their legitimate counterparts. In the United States, money is made from cotton and linen fibers, whereas counterfeiters often print fake money on paper made from trees. As a result, anyone who compares the two can typically tell the difference. In other countries, paper is printed on either paper, the same cotton and linen fibers, or a type of plastic. Tactile features such as raised ink, and ridged edges on visual features are common in many currencies and very difficult for counterfeiters to reproduce. If possible, compare the bill in question with a known legitimate one and look out for any differences.

Detect Counterfeit Cash On Sight

If you’ve a keen sense of sight, you may be able to detect counterfeit money just by looking at it. Bills include many fine visual features that can only be reproduced by an expensive printing process that uses the original design for the bill. In many cases, counterfeiters will print bills that are visually inaccurate due to low quality production equipment. Fine lines that appear in genuine currency may appear smudged on a counterfeit, so look out for any blurred lines where a lack of acuity in printing is evident. When scanning for a counterfeit bank note, as mentioned above, the best tool you can leverage is research into how exactly the bill is supposed to look and there is no substitute for a side-by-side comparison with a genuine bank note.

Precision Macro Lens Phonescope, 60x Magnification, Suitable for All Smartphones
Source: Banknote World

Using a Counterfeit Detector

You may have seen a counterfeit detector in use at a pawn shop or retail store in the past and wondered how this little machine can detect a fake bank note. Counterfeit detectors can be designed to detect a number of different security features that are present on modern banknotes. The most common security feature for this application is UV marks. These markings are printed only on genuine banknotes and can be revealed by shining a UV light onto the note. A note checker pen is also a popular option for detecting counterfeit bank notes. Unlike most retail-level counterfeit detectors, this device fits in your pocket and is totally portable to help you detect counterfeit money. Every collector that visits flea markets or exhibitions to trade notes should have one of these. A note-checker pen uses an iodine solution that turns dark when applied to paper, but not when applied to fiber or cotton-based materials. This enables you to quickly test the material of any bank note in your possession – pretty useful, huh? Just be careful – don’t assume the note is real just because it was printed on fiber paper, it could still be a fake!

Banknote World Black Light UV – Ultraviolet Counterfeit Currency Detector
Source: Banknote World

What to Do with Counterfeit Money

Ending up with counterfeit money is always a drag, and the hardest part is resisting the urge to pass it on to someone else – it’s only fair, right? Unfortunately, not only is it illegal to knowingly pass a counterfeit note, it’s just not a very nice thing to do and you’ll be leaving the next person in the exact position you’re in – except you’ll be the bad guy. Write down as much information as you can about the person that passed you the counterfeit and turn the note over to police. You won’t be compensated for the note itself, but the police may reward you if the information you provide helps them make an arrest that prevents further counterfeit bills from entering circulation.


Learning how to detect counterfeit banknotes can be an uphill struggle, considering most people may never have seen one before. Take the first step by learning to recognize security features on the genuine banknotes that you have, and by understanding what the most common methods are by which counterfeiters try to replicate real money. If you get used to the specific tactile and visual features of real money, you’ll soon be able to detect counterfeit notes on sight, like a professional. In addition to improving your counterfeit detection skills, it’s important that you always collect your banknotes from a trusted and certified source; doing so eliminates the risk of collecting counterfeit banknotes.

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