Dollars and Cents - Spotting Counterfeit Currency

Dollars & Cents logo


Types of U.S. Paper Money

Currency Features

U.S. Coins

Circulation of Money

Spotting Counterfeit Currency


Spotting Counterfeit Currency

The amount of counterfeit currency in circulation in the United States is very small—only 3/100ths of 1 percent of total currency. About 75 percent of all known counterfeit currency is seized before it reaches the public.

highlight of currency imageBut it is in your interest always to examine any currency you receive because you must assume the loss for any counterfeit note you accept. Perhaps the following suggestions from the U.S. Secret Service will help you spot one.

Study genuine currency. In series 1996 or later currency, the security features described in the Currency Features section will be present. In addition, look closely at the workmanship of several features. On genuine notes, the portrait and the picture on the back of the note stand out sharply from the background, and the eyes in the portrait appear lifelike. Numbers are firmly, evenly printed and well spaced, and the fine crisscrossing lines of the scrollwork borders are sharp and unbroken.

On counterfeit notes, the portrait and picture may merge with the background, the eyes or other features on the portrait may be dull or smudgy, or the face may seem unnaturally white. Numbers may be out of line, poorly spaced, and printed too light or too dark, and the lines in the scrollwork borders may be blurred or broken.

The paper used for genuine notes is of very high quality. The tiny red and blue fibers embedded in the paper of genuine notes may not be visible if the bill is badly worn or dirty; on counterfeit bills, these threads may be imitated by fine red and blue lines printed or drawn on the paper. Counterfeit currency paper may feel different or be whiter than genuine paper.

Rubbing a bill on a piece of paper is not a good test. Ink can be rubbed off genuine as well as counterfeit notes.

If you're not sure whether a note is counterfeit, consult an experienced money handler—a bank teller, for example. If you get a counterfeit bill,

  • Write your initials and the date on the back of the bill so that you can identify it later.

  • Record on a separate sheet of paper all the details about how you got the bill: Who gave it to you? Where and when did you get it?

  • Handle the bill as little as possible to preserve any fingerprints. Put the bill in a protective cover such as an envelope

  • Contact the nearest U.S. Secret Service office or local police. Surrender the bill only to these agencies.

Anyone convicted of passing a counterfeit may be fined as much as $5,000 or imprisoned for up to 15 years.

Rules about Reproducing Money

The law places strict limitations on photographs or other printed reproductions of U.S. and foreign paper currency, checks, bonds, stamps, and securities.

U.S. currency
The Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992 permits color illustration of U.S. currency provided that

  • the illustration is less than three-quarters or more than one and one-half times the size, in linear dimension, of any part of the bill;
  • the illustration is one-sided; and
  • any negatives, positives, plates, or digital, magnetic, or optical files used in making the illustration are destroyed, deleted, or erased after their final use.

Other obligations
Similar restrictions apply to photographs or printed reproductions of foreign currency as well as U.S. and foreign checks, bonds, stamps, and securities. In addition, these items may be reproduced only in black and white.

Color or black and white motion picture films, microfilms, videotapes, and slides of U.S. and foreign paper currency, securities, and other obligations may be made for projection or telecasting. But prints may not be made from these media unless the prints conform to size and color restrictions.

There are no restrictions on printed or motion picture reproductions of U.S. or foreign coins. But the law prohibits, with few exceptions, the manufacture, sale, or use of any token or device that is meant to resemble a U.S. or foreign coin and that is issued as money.

For more information on the rules about reproducing money, contact the U.S. Secret Service office nearest you; office locations are available on the Web at or by contacting the U.S. Secret Service, Office of Government Liaison and Public Affairs, 950 H Street, N.W., Suite 8400, Washington, D.C. 20001-4518, 202/406-5708.

Back to top