Is it real or counterfeit? Part 2 – Detection devices

May 21, 2012 | by D. B. "Libby" Libhart
Is it real or counterfeit? Part 2 – Detection devices

Part 1 of "Is it real or counterfeit?" gave practical tips in teaching cashiers how to detect counterfeit currency. Anti-counterfeit technology has been embedded in U.S. currency. Tips on detecting counterfeit refer to a few of these features. The "feel" and "look" of the bill is a great start. The printing on genuine bills will feel slightly raised and will appear clear and crisp. The numerals in the bottom right corner will shift colors from black to green or copper to green when tilted back and forth. Watermarks of the portrait images can be seen from both side of the bill.

There are other security features on U.S. currency. Counterfeit detection devices on the market authenticate one or several of these security features to validate the bill. The level of technology in detecting counterfeit currency drives the price. Here are a few devices from the very simple to the more complex.

Counterfeit detecting pens – The pen is felt tipped and contains an iodine-based ink and costs a few dollars. A suspect bill is marked with the pen. The iodine solution reacts with starch in wood based paper and the mark turns dark brown or black. U.S. currency is printed on cotton/linen paper and contains no starch. The mark by the pen will be a light amber color on a genuine bill. A trick counterfeiters are using is to pre-mark the bill with an amber or light yellow marker to fool the cashier into thinking that the bill was previously tested and is good. Counterfeiters bleach $5 bills and reprint larger notes on the cotton/linen paper. They use the $5 bill because the $1 and $2 bills do not contain the security strip. The U.S. Secret Service has determined that the counterfeit detecting pen is not dependable and does not include it in public guides to detect counterfeit.

Counterfeit detecting pens with UV light– The pen mentioned above is marketed with the added feature of UV light for double counterfeit detection. The UV light highlights the security strip in the bill. The pen is priced at $10 and up.

UV light devices– All bills printed after 1996, with the exception of the $1 and $2 bills, have a distinct security thread embedded vertically in the bill. Each strip is coated with a special UV ink and turns a different color when subjected to UV light.

  • $100 Red/Pink
  • $50 Yellow
  • $20 Green
  • $10 Orange
  • $5 Blue

Ultra violet light will be absorbed by a genuine bill and the embedded security strip will be highlighted. The UV light is reflected on counterfeit bills.

UV light devices can also be used to detect:

  • Altered/fake I.D.
  • Fake driver's license
  • Reproduced Government/personal checks
  • Phony INS documents
  • Event tickets
  • Counterfeit credit cards

UV light devices range in price from $15 for relatively simple devices to $65 for alarms or signals when counterfeit is detected.

Magnetic ink detectors – The portrait, numerals in the upper corners, and the seal of U.S. currency are printed with costly magnetic ink that is rarely used by counterfeiters. Magnetic ink detectors authenticate the bill. The price of this unit is $90 and up.

Bleached bill detector – The device checks for UV markings, magnetic ink and infrared features.

The device gives notification if the bill is genuine or counterfeit. The price of the unit is $90 and up.

Multi-currency authenticators – This device can identify and authenticate currencies from multiple countries and displays their values in multiple languages. It combines the detection systems of UV light, magnetic ink, watermark, micro printing and chemical reaction of the paper. The price of these units start at $240.

SMART Safe– The quick-serve and fast casual restaurants are adopting SMART Safe technology for several reasons. It provides greater efficiency and accuracy in handling cash, decreases labor, increases security, and has a currency validator built into the safe.

There are many reputable dealers of counterfeit detection devices. Many offer no guarantees that their devices will detect all counterfeit bills. If you are interested in any of these devices, decide on how the device will be used, space available near the cash register, the type of detection you want to employ and the purchase budget. If you frequently deal in large bills or in foreign currency, the more sophisticated units may be the most appropriate. The more detection systems within the device usually translate to greater detection of counterfeit bills.

Despite the efforts of security features on U.S. currency and the above technology, counterfeiters are still quite successful. They prey on cash intensive businesses with employees that are untrained in detecting counterfeit, too busy to check, or do not utilize counterfeit detection devices. Either way it always comes down to training. If your organization utilizes counterfeit detection technology, ensure that your cashiers or employees accepting cash know how to use the device and what denominations are to be routinely checked.

Part 3 of this article will provide information on what to do when counterfeit bills are detected.

For more information on detecting counterfeit currency, visit:

For more information on security, safety, loss and crime prevention for restaurants, visit For daily tips on restaurant loss prevention, follow on Twitter @LossBusters.

D. B. "Libby" Libhart
D.B. “Libby” Libhart has more than 30 years of experience in the loss prevention industry. He has provided security and safety leadership in retail settings such as department stores, drug stores and quick-service restaurants. Before launching his own company, LossBusters, Libby served as the Senior Director of U.S. Security and Safety for McDonald’s Corp. He entered the QSR industry with Taco Bell and subsequently YUM Brands. wwwView D. B. "Libby" Libhart's profile on LinkedIn

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