April Fools Special Edition: How to Tell Real Currency from Fake

April 1, 2013

Given enough time with new technology, criminals will soon put it to work in their pursuit of ill-gotten gains. And so it’s been with counterfeiters and advances in digital color printing and photocopying. Believe me, I would know… I’ve spent 15 years in the banking industry and six in armored transport.

Merchants don’t find fake currency funny because they’re stuck with it: bank’s automated currency counters can detect counterfeits and won’t accept any in a deposit. That’s why it pays to be able to tell fake from real, even if it takes putting detection technology to work for you.

If you handle a lot of cash, you can usually tell just by the feel of the paper that the bill is bogus. Also, since 1996, the U.S. Treasury started putting safeguards into currency that are hard if not impossible for crooks to replicate. Among them are watermarks bearing the image of the person on a bill’s denomination, $5 and higher, that appear when you hold a bill up to a light. Also, $10 bills and higher have color-shifting inks, which appear to change color when the bill is tilted.

Here are some tips from the U.S. Secret Service on avoiding the sting of counterfeit currency. First, hold a suspicious-looking bill next to one you know is real and that has the same denomination and series. Next, look carefully at the quality of the paper and printing, comparing especially these characteristics:

President’s Image

A real bill will have a portrait with clear engraving lines that distinguish the image from the background, while the portrait in a fake one will seem muddled.


Official Seals

The round, official seals of the Federal Reserve and Treasury one either side of the portrait should be share, not fuzzy. Counterfeit bills will typically be less distinct.


Currency Edges

Like the previous two points, the borders of  bogus bills may be broken and blurred, while real currency will have sharply imprinted, continuous lines.


Serial Numbers

On genuine currency serial numbers are clearly printed, have precise spacing and use the same colored ink as the Treasury seal. Fake currency, in contrast, may have misaligned numbers and be printed in a different shade or color than the Treasury seal.


Currency Paper

Official U.S. currency uses paper that’s embedded with tiny red and blue fibers. While criminals often try to counterfeit these fibers too, you can tell whether they’re printed or embedded by looking closely or using a magnifying glass.


While you’ll have to use these visual detection techniques to keep from taking counterfeit bills in the first place, you can also employ scanning technology similar to what banks use to keep fakes out of your cash deposit. How? With Garda’s CashLINK smart safe technology. When you deposit a note into the CashLINK smart safe, it scans it—checking if it’s counterfeit—then counts it and compiles a running total of all your cash deposits in advance of a Garda armored truck pickup.  Visit to get all the details.