Counterfeit Bill Detection

The amount of counterfeit money in the US is low enough that most people feel safe taking money with barely a minimal check for counterfeits. Does it look and feel like money? Then it probably is. But have you ever gotten a bill where something, either the bank note or the person giving it to you, seemed a little off? Ever wished you could quickly check to see if it was good?

Look and Feel
  • US bank notes are printed on special paper that's 75% cotton and 25% linen (The linen gives it an extra stiffness that's distinctive).
  • There are red and blue fibers imbedded in the paper.
  • Bank notes are printed with a process called "intaglio" that leaves ink on top of the paper, giving the money a distinctive texture.
  • The printing is very high quality, so the lines are sharp and clear, not broken, fuzzy, or blobby.

Color Shifting Ink
    Color shifting ink on twenty dollar bill
  • Bank notes bigger than the $5 use color-shifting ink to print the number showing the denomination in the lower-right-hand corner.
  • Look at the numbers head-on, and then from an angle.
  • For genuine notes, the color will shift (copper-to-green or green-to-black).

Security Thread
    Security thread in a twenty dollar bill
  • All bills larger than $2 have a security thread running vertically through the bill. Like the watermark, hold the bill up to the light to see it.
  • The new $5 has the security thread moved to the right of the portrait to make it different from the $100.

Watermark
    Watermark on a ten dollar bill
  • All bills larger than a $2 have a watermark--hold the bill up to the light to see it.
  • For the $10, $20, $50, and $100, the image matches the portrait.
  • That's also true of the current $5 bill, but on the new $5 which came out in early 2008, the watermark will be that of a numeral 5.
  • There's also a second watermark with three numeral 5s, one above the other, to the left of Lincoln's portrait.
  • You can use it to spot bills that have been bleached and reprinted with a higher denomination.

Print Quality
  • Real U.S. bills are printed using techniques that regular offset printing and digital printing (the most popular tools for all but the most sophisticated counterfeiters) cannot replicate.
President Grant's right eye, real currency President Grant's right eye, false currency           Upper left corner of 50 dollar bill, real currency Upper left corner of 50 dollar bill, false currency

Summary

The easiest way to spot a fake $5, $10, $20, $50 or $100 bill is to look for the following security features, all of which are very difficult to convincingly fake:
  • A section of the security thread is visible in the circle near the portrait.
  • The large circle to the right shows the watermark.
  • The color-shifting ink is circled.
Highlights of the 50 dollar bill

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