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Illustration: Elena Scotti (Shutterstock)

Although cash is not used as widely as it used to be, counterfeit bills are still a problem. According to the Ministry of Finance, there are an estimated $ 70 million in counterfeit banknotes in circulation, or roughly one counterfeit banknote per 10,000 in real currency – although it could be a lot more. So there is no harm in knowing how to spot a fake invoice, especially if you work in the service industry. How to identify counterfeit banknotes:

  • The feel of the paper: The easiest way to identify counterfeit bills is to feel the paper, which is grainy and crispy. Counterfeit bills are often printed on regular tree cellulose paper, but real bills are made from rag paper – a combination of linen and cotton fibers. Most people can intuitively tell the difference, especially when comparing a fake invoice with a real one.
  • Elevated Ink: The effect is subtle, but with real bills you can drag a fingernail across the surface and feel a bit of tooth or vibration from the raised ink, especially if there is a lot of etching. Most counterfeiters struggle to reproduce this effect.
  • Color changing ink: On newer banknotes, the numbers in the lower right corner change color from copper to green for denominations of $ 10 and above. Just flip the bill back and forth and you should see it. Sometimes counterfeiters use glitter, so as the number tends to go from glossy to matte, you can still tell it’s a fake if the color doesn’t change.
  • Watermark: When held up to a light, recent, legitimate bills will have a watermark of a digit corresponding to the bill or, alternatively, a ghostly image of the president depicted on the bill. The watermark can be seen from both sides of the invoice.
  • Security thread: Newer notes should have a vertical stripe on the banknote, either to the left or to the right of the portrait (depending on the denomination). The face value of the invoice is also noted on the thread.
  • Blurred print: A sign of counterfeit bills is fuzzy lines or text, as real bills use die-cut prints that are extremely precise and difficult to replicate. The best way to spot fuzzy printing is to look closely to see if the very small text printed on the invoice is clear and legible.
  • Red and blue threads: It’s very subtle, but real bills have tiny, hair-like threads woven into the bill that appear blue or pink (personally, I think the blue threads are easier to spot). The lines are very thin which makes it difficult for fake printers to replicate.
  • Ultraviolet glow: I haven’t confirmed this myself, but when a real bill is held against ultraviolet light, the $ 5 bill glows blue, the $ 10 bill glows orange, the $ 20 bill glows green, and the $ 50 bill glows yellow , and the $ 100 bill will glow red. If you have a UV light give it a try and share what you find.
  • Serial number: The first letter of the serial number should correspond to the year in which the invoice was drafted, the so-called “serial number”, which is also printed on the invoice. (For reference: E = 2004, G = 2004A, I = 2006, J = 2009, L = 2009A, M = 2013, N = 2017)

For more information on detecting counterfeit banknotes, see Check out this visual guide produced by the US Currency Education Program.