Is it real or counterfeit? Practical tips in detecting counterfeit currency

May 11, 2012 | by D. B. "Libby" Libhart
Is it real or counterfeit? Practical tips in detecting counterfeit currency

"Good morning! Thanks for calling XYZ Company; how may I help you?"

"Hi. This is Susan down at the bank."

"Oh, Hi Susan; How are you?"

"I'm fine thank you, but I'm afraid I have some bad news for you. Your store's deposit from yesterday had two counterfeit $20 bills in it. I'm afraid we will have to debit your account $40. I'm so sorry."

So, how does a small retailer, or quick service or fast casual restaurant that accepts predominantly cash deal with counterfeit? The level of alertness seems to increase when a $50 or $100 bill is presented for payment. There's that moment of "OK, I need to inspect this" followed by a few seconds of apprehension, a slight nod and acceptance. Can the cashier and manager truly spot a counterfeit bill? And, if they do, what do they do about it?

There are many counterfeit protection features on U.S. currency; Special paper, magnetic ink, intaglio printing, security threads, fine detailed printing and serial numbers, just to name a few. If a cashier armed with complete knowledge of all of those features, a magnifying glass, and plenty of time to examine every bill, they might be able to detect a majority of counterfeit presented to them. They may even be eligible to work for the U.S. Treasury department. But they work in an environment that is fast and often frenzied.

Detecting counterfeit usually is not high on the priority list in cash handling until the $50 or $100 bill is presented. What usually passes under the radar is the fact that the most counterfeited bill in the U.S. is the $20 bill. The $20 bill does not usually undergo the same scrutiny as the higher denominations, and the counterfeiters know it.

So, how does a business dealing mostly in cash protect against accepting counterfeit? As with most operations, it comes down to training that is easy to comprehend and makes sense. The procedures must be effective, yet not slow down the operation.

Experienced cashiers can quickly catch "suspicious" bills with these quick assessments:

  • The "feel" of the paper will be different. Genuine currency is printed on high quality paper made from cotton and linen fibers. Wood pulp paper has a different feel to it, and experienced cashiers may note the difference. The print on the paper is raised slightly as well. Copied printing will not be raised and the experienced, well trained cashier may be able to feel that difference too.
  • The "look" may be different. Genuine currency is printed with high quality ink that does not bleed or fade. Letters and numbers will be crisp, perfectly aligned, and evenly spaced. The borders of the bill will be evenly spaced. The look of counterfeit may not have sharp images around the portrait, letters and numbers and the letters and numbers may have odd spacing.
  • Examine color shifting ink. Hold the bill straight out in front and look at the denomination of the bill in the bottom right corner. Tilt the bill 45 degrees. The color on the number of the $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills printed between 1996 and 2004 will shift from black to green as the bill is tilted. The color of the number on the same currency on bills printed after 2004 will shift from copper to green. Counterfeiters have not been successful in duplicating this feature. Note that the $5 bill does not have color shifting ink.
  • Check for watermark. Hold the bill up to the light. A watermark bearing the image of the portrait is embedded to the right of the portrait and can be seen from both sides of the bill.
  • Compare to a known "good" bill. Compare the suspicious bill to a bill of the same denomination and series year. Look for differences, not similarities.

There are many other anti-counterfeit features on U.S. currency, but these are quick references that can be easily taught to cashiers. It provides them with a comfort level and expertise that can be applied quickly to discern "suspicious" bills. For more information on detecting counterfeit currency, visit:

Part 2 of this article will provide information on the types of devices retailers and restaurants are using to detect counterfeit bills, and what to do when they are detected.

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

Topics: Insurance / Risk Management, Loss Prevention, Operations Management, Staffing & Training

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

Sponsored Links:

Related Content

Latest Content

Get the latest news & insights





Commodities: Somebody must have hit replay ... but no complaints