HELP! I Think I Have a Counterfeit Bill!

by Ron Haynes

“Thanks for calling, this is Ron. How can I help you?”

“Hello Ron? This is Mandy down at the bank. I think we have a problem with your deposit from last night.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” I replied.

“No, it doesn’t. I believe you deposited a counterfeit hundred dollar bill last night,” she said apprehensively.

“Can you show it to me? I’d be curious to see what it looked like,” I answered.

“Let me check, but I don’t think that will be a problem. Thanks for not yelling at me!”

After checking with the branch manager, Mandy said that it was okay for me to see the bill in question, so I drove over the the branch and walked in.

It certainly looked like it was okay. If this was a counterfeit, it was a good one. She let me hold it and I instantly knew something was wrong. It was slick and felt very, very smooth.

“Hold it up to the light and look at the watermark on the right hand side of the portrait,” she told me. When I did, I saw a fuzzy picture of . . . Abe Lincoln, not Ben Franklin. She also pointed to the small security strip on the left side of the portrait. It read USA FIVE instead of USA 100.

“Sometimes counterfeiters will bleach a smaller denomination bill and print a larger denomination on the paper. The paper is the hardest thing to duplicate. That’s why it feels so smooth,” she informed me. Mandy knew her stuff.

“So where do we go from here?” I asked.

“Well, I have a lot of paperwork to fill out and the local Secret Service office will pick up the bill. They will study it and attempt to find the counterfeiters based on their database of counterfeit Treasury notes like this one. Maybe they can find them and put them behind bars,” she reasoned.

“And our deposit?”

“I’ll have to reduce it by $100. Unfortunately, there isn’t any recourse for you in this case.” She gave me an exaggerated frown, but I already knew that to be the case. I was a bank teller for 4 years in college.

The statistics on how much counterfeit currency is out there are difficult to come by. We just don’t really know what we haven’t found. There are accurate statistics on what has been seized, however. In 2005, about $50 million was seized both domestically and internationally.

The following information comes from the US Treasury’s web site:

How To Detect Counterfeit Money

Look at the money you receive. Compare a suspect note with a genuine note of the same denomination and series, paying attention to the quality of printing and paper characteristics. Look for differences, not similarities. Pay special attention to the “feel” of the notes and how they may feel differently.

The portrait on a genuine note will appear lifelike and stand out distinctly from the background. The counterfeit portrait is usually lifeless and flat (but not always). Details merge into the background which is often too dark or mottled.

Pay attention to the seal. On a genuine bill, the saw-tooth points of the Federal Reserve and Treasury seals are clear, distinct, and sharp. The counterfeit seals may have uneven, blunt, or broken saw-tooth points.

The fine lines in the border of a genuine bill are clear and unbroken. On the counterfeit, the lines in the outer margin and scrollwork may be blurred and indistinct.

Genuine serial numbers have a distinctive style and are evenly spaced. The serial numbers are printed in the same ink color as the Treasury Seal. On a counterfeit, the serial numbers may differ in color or shade of ink from the Treasury seal. The numbers may not be uniformly spaced or aligned.

Genuine currency paper has tiny red and blue fibers embedded throughout. Often counterfeiters try to simulate these fibers by printing tiny red and blue lines on their paper. Close inspection reveals, however, that on the counterfeit note the lines are printed on the surface, not embedded in the paper. It is illegal to reproduce the distinctive paper used in the manufacturing of United States currency.

If You Suspect That You Have Received a Counterfeit

  • Do not return it to the passer.
  • Delay the passer if possible.
  • Observe the passer’s description, as well as that of any companions, and the license plate numbers of any vehicles used.
  • Contact your local police department or United States Secret Service field office. These numbers can be found on the inside front page of your local telephone directory.
  • Write your initials and the date in the white border areas of the suspect note.
  • Limit the handling of the note. Carefully place it in a protective covering, such as an envelope.
  • Surrender the note or coin only to a properly identified police officer or a U.S. Secret Service special agent.

It’s the Law

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.

Possession of counterfeit United States obligations with fraudulent intent is a violation of Title 18, Section 472 of the United States Code and is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to 15 years, or both.

Anyone who manufactures a counterfeit U.S. coin in any denomination above five cents is subject to the same penalties as all other counterfeiters. Anyone who alters a genuine coin to increase its numismatic value is in violation of Title 18, Section 331 of the United States Code, which is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to five years, or both.

Forging, altering, or trafficking in United States Government checks, bonds or other obligations is a violation of Title 18, Section 510 of the United States Code and is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to 10 years, or both.

Printed reproductions, including photographs of paper currency, checks, bonds, postage stamps, revenue stamps, and securities of the United States and foreign governments (except under the conditions previously listed) are violations of Title 18, Section 474 of the United States Code. Violations are punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to 15 years, or both.

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 988 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.