As a business owner one of your concerns is being given counterfeit bills. Despite the best efforts of the US government, convincing counterfeit bills continue to be made and circulated. A July 2006 article in The New York times indicated that North Korea was suspected of producing counterfeit US bills so well made it required forensic examination by experts to confirm they were fakes. The article said “The engraved images were, if anything, finer than those produced by the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing”. Such high quality counterfeits are known as “supernotes”. There are also many smaller operators out there producing lower quality, but still convincing, counterfeits. An estimate by the US Department of Treasury indicates there may be 70 million dollars in counterfeit currency in circulation. That’s one dollar for every $12,500 in legitimate currency.
Though high quality counterfeits are sometimes made, they rarely make it into circulation in the US. The US Secret Service does a remarkable job of detecting counterfeit bills and removing them from circulation. Many loads of counterfeits have been found in shipping containers entering the US. These shipments typically contain legitimate merchandise with the counterfeit money hidden within the merchandise or the shipping container itself.
The counterfeiting of US currency is a threat to our economy and even our national security. Proceeds from counterfeit merchandise and currency have been found to support terrorism. Closer to home, it hurts the small business owner who is forced to absorb a loss when given counterfeit money. Not only do they lose the value of that money, they also experience lost time and productivity in dealing with it. For the smallest of businesses, the impact is hard felt.
It would be nearly impossible to be able to detect every counterfeit bill out there but with some knowledge you can protect yourself reasonably well. Modern currency is full of anti counterfeit features that you can easily detect.
First is the paper legitimate bills are printed on. It is not really “paper” at all but a mix of cotton and linen fibers woven together and pressed into crisp sheets. It does not contain cellulose from wood fibers, the primary ingredient in nearly every paper made. The paper also contains red and blue fibers in the weave that are visible to the naked eye. The currency is especially durable and will not disintegrate if accidentally washed in the washing machine.
Next is the use of special inks. A variety of inks are used in the making of currency. Some have color shifting denomination numbers in the bottom right corner that turn from green to gold depending on the viewing angle. On newer notes the color shifts from copper to gold. The ink is made so that it does not fully soak into the fibers of the note. This gives it a “feel” that can be detected easily. Information about what exact ingredients are in the ink is a closely guarded secret.
The pictures on currency should be very clear and distinct. Counterfeit bills typically have blurred lines and the image is not sharp and clear. The color of the image may be off as well. The portrait should appear to have some depth and not have a flat appearance. The treasury seal should have a sharp saw tooth pattern around the edge. The fine lines on the border of the bill should be distinct and unbroken. They should not appear blurred.
The serial number should be printed in the same color as the treasury seal. The numbers should be evenly spaced and properly aligned. They should also be of uniform size. If you have multiple bills make sure the serial numbers are different. Also ensure both serial numbers on the same bill match.
The numbers on the corners of the bill should obviously match the written denomination on the bottom center of the bill. If they don’t, the bill is a “raised” bill. This is a bill that has been altered to show a higher denomination. Raised bills are often created by bleaching out the ink of a small denomination and printing the image of a higher denomination on the paper.
Hold the bill up to a light source and look for a watermark. The watermark should match the portrait. The newest 5 dollar bill has a watermark showing a “5”. One and two dollar bills have no watermark. There should also be a plastic strip woven into the bill to the left of the portrait. It should show “USA” and the denomination.
When held up to a black light the security strip should glow. The $5 bill glows blue; the $10 bill glows orange, the $20 bill glows green, the $50 bill glows yellow, and the $100 bill glows red.
Newer bills also have microprinting which can be seen using a magnifying glass. The microprinting should be clear and crisp and can be found on the plastic security strip and around the portrait. If the microprinting is blurred or broken the bill is counterfeit. If in doubt, you may try comparing the bill to a known good bill of the same year paying close attention to the details of the portrait and denomination numerals.
Though there is no easy way to detect it, the ink in modern bills is magnetic. This assists automated bill checkers to determine if the bill is good. If you use a strong magnet you should be able to observe the bill being attracted to it. It is not strong enough to hold the weight of the bill but should lift it slightly off a flat surface. One way many people check for counterfeits is with a pen that reacts to regular paper. This will determine if the bill is printed on the wrong paper but it will not detect raised bills as they are printed on legitimate paper.
It may be tempting to run out and buy every counterfeit detecting gadget available but that may not be necessary. Knowing what to look for and being vigilant will go a long way toward protecting your business. Many businesses will not take bills larger than $20. While this works for many businesses to limit their exposure, it may not be a good solution for all businesses. Make sure your employees are trained in recognizing counterfeit bills. Please report all counterfeit bills to your local police department. Counterfeiting is a federal crime and is investigated by the US Secret Service.
Community Service Officer John Thomas is a long time resident of Temecula and is a Crime Prevention Officer with the Temecula Police Department Crime Prevention Unit. He can be reached at (951) 506-5132.