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How to Tell if Money is Fake

Counterfeit money is a big problem for bars and restaurants, especially small operations that take in a large portion of their revenue in cash. Knowing how to check for counterfeit bills and using a counterfeit money detector can help you protect your bottom line.

7 Ways to Tell if Money is Real

With advances in printing technology, fake money that looks real can be challenging to identify. To spot counterfeits, look for the absence of features like security threads, UV properties, watermarks, color shifting inks, and others.

  1. Security Threads: Since 2004, all bills $5 and larger have a clear thread embedded vertically in the bill that is visible when held up to the light. Each denomination has the thread at a different spot.
  2. UV Properties: If you shine an ultraviolet light on a bill, the security thread will glow. Each denomination glows a different color.
  3. Magnetic & Color Shifting Inks: Some counterfeit detectors can sense the magnetic properties of inks to tell if bills are real. Also, 2004 style bills $10 and greater have a color shifting numeral printed in the lower right front corner.
  4. Watermarks: Bills from after 2004 have a watermark that is visible from either side when held up to a light.
  5. Paper: Real currency uses special paper that is 25% linen and 75% cotton with tiny embedded red and blue fibers.
  6. Size: Paper money is a very specific size. Some counterfeit detectors are capable of finding inconsistently-sized bills.
  7. Microprinting: Tiny lettering that looks like a simple line to the naked eye is called microprinting. Real U.S. currency has this feature, which can actually be read with the use of a magnifying glass.

Fake bills can sometimes have a few of these features but it is difficult to replicate all of them perfectly. If your business receives a lot revenue in cash, it is a good practice to check for more than one sign of counterfeiting.

Why Do I Need Counterfeit Money Detectors?

If you provide the proper tools and teach staff members how to spot fake money, you can reduce the amount your operation loses due to counterfeits. Many bars, restaurants, clubs, and resorts handle a lot of cash on a daily basis, which makes them vulnerable to counterfeit bills.

Some tools, like UV lights, are used to detect counterfeit money and can also be used to check the authenticity of patrons' ID cards. Checking IDs is required if your business serves alcohol, and taking extra steps to make sure those IDs are real can help to protect your establishment from liability.

Types of Counterfeit Money Detectors

From pens, to UV lights, to currency counters with built-in counterfeit detection, different types of counterfeit detectors are great for different applications. When choosing a counterfeit detector, keep in mind that relying on just one testing method may not be sufficient. Checking for more than one factor is important because improvements in technology have made fakes harder to spot.

Counterfeit pens are a great starting place, but keep in mind that this type of detector will not work on "bleached" bills. Bleaching is a common method of counterfeiting. Bleached bills have a lower denomination's printing bleached off, then are re-printed with a higher denomination. Be sure to review all your options to find the counterfeit detector that will best fit your business's needs.

Restaurant Equipment

UV Lights

How it Works: Used to show the security threads, ribbons, and watermarks in money or markings on customers’ IDs.

Tests For: Security threads, watermarks, hidden markings.

Restaurant Equipment

UV Light Systems

How it Works: Features a UV light set in a base with indicators to show where security threads should be. Place a bill on the light to see if the security thread lines up correctly and glows the correct color.

Tests For: Security threads, watermarks.

Restaurant Equipment

Currency Counters / Detectors

How it Works: Most models use UV, magnetic, and/or infrared technology to find counterfeits.

Tests For: Security threads, magnetic ink, size.

Restaurant Equipment

Counterfeit Detector Pens

How it Works: Use an iodine-based ink that reacts with starches contained in wood. The ink remains clear or slightly yellow for real bills but turns dark for counterfeits.

Tests For: Correct paper

Restaurant Equipment

UV Light / Counterfeit Pens

How it Works: Has a pen on one end and a UV light on the other to test currency paper, security threads, and watermarks at once.

Tests For: Correct paper, security threads, watermarks

Restaurant Equipment

Magnifying Glasses

How it Works: Allows you to look for errors in the printing of the bill, like the presence or absence of microprinting. They can also make it easier to read serial numbers.

Tests For: Printing errors, microprinting

What to Do with Counterfeit Money

If you suspect that you have received a counterfeit bill, you will want to report it to the U.S. Secret Service or the police right away.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury recommends the following steps:

  1. Don't return the bill. Instead, observe and write down as much information as possible about the person or group that gave it to you. If possible, include physical descriptions and license plate numbers.
  2. Contact the local police or the local U.S. Secret Service office right away.
  3. Handle the suspected counterfeit money as little as possible. Place the note in a marked, protective cover like an envelope or plastic bag to keep it separate from your other cash.
  4. Surrender the bill only to a police officer or Secret Service agent who has properly identified himself or herself. You can also mail it to the U.S. Secret Service field office that is closest to your location.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Please refer to our Content Policy for more details.

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