Spotting counterfeit currency
The best way to authenticate U.S. currency is to check a combination of features in the note as opposed to a single feature. For example, in the current $20 note, you can check the color-shifting ink in the numeral 20 in the right corner. In a genuine $20 note, this ink changes from copper to green when you tilt it 45 degrees. You can also check the security thread, which runs to the left of the portrait of President Jackson. In genuine $20s, this security thread contains the printed characters "USA20," repeated down the length of the thread.
If you think you've received a counterfeit note, notify the local police or the nearest United States Secret Service field office. You can find Secret Service office locations on the agency's website. Write your initials and the date in the white border of the note, and surrender it only to a properly identified police officer or U.S. Secret Service special agent. If the note is genuine, you will get it back. You cannot exchange a counterfeit note for a genuine note.
It is illegal to knowingly pass counterfeit currency. Manufacturing counterfeit United States currency or altering genuine currency to increase its value is a violation of Title 18, Section 471 of the United States Code and is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to 15 years, or both.
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.
The Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992 permits color illustration of U.S. currency provided that you meet the following conditions:
- The illustration is less than three-quarters of or more than one-and-one-half times the size, in linear dimension, of any part of the bill.
- The illustration is one-sided.
- You destroy, delete, or erase any negatives, positives, plates, or digital, magnetic, or optical files you used to make the illustration after their final use.
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 appear only in black and white. You can make color or black-and-white motion picture films, microfilms, videotapes, and slides of U.S. and foreign paper currency, securities, and other obligations for projection or telecasting. But you cannot make prints 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. However, the law prohibits, with few exceptions, the manufacture, sale, or use of any token or device 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. You can find office locations on the Treasury Department's website 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.