Real vs fake money – the battle that never seems to end. Ever since the first golden coins started being used on the markets of the ancient world, there were counterfeits being made. Nowadays, this issue has only grown more urgent and the issue of how to detect counterfeit money has been taking sleep away from both producers and users of coins and banknotes. And if you’ve found yourself reading this article right now, you might be anxious about that as well! But don’t worry – you’re on the right track to avoid fake money forever! With an estimated 0.01% dollars in circulation being counterfeits, the risk of you getting your hands on one is not big, however, one needs to be wary, as money goes round and round constantly.
In this article we are going to focus on recognizing fake banknotes. That’s because, in the contemporary monetary system, coins hold lower denominations as compared to bills. It’s also harder to obtain sufficient equipment to make a good counterfeit coin. When it comes to bills, however, the situation is different. As the technology to produce counterfeit banknotes, such as photocopiers or graphic design programs, became widely available, more and more people are attempting to secure a slice of that shady pie for themselves. This is both bad and good news for you. Bad, because, obviously, it makes it easier for a fake bill to find its way to your wallet. Good, because plenty of these newcomers can’t really make a good counterfeit, which, in turn gives you a better chance of recognizing it.
This is exactly what we’re going to devote this article to. We would like you to know how to spot a fake and make sure your money is real. Below, you will find several tests you can put your money to as well as inherent attributes of US dollars that will allow you to tell between genuine cash and a counterfeit.
The finger rub test
Although banknotes are almost always referred to as ‘paper money’, the US dollars are not actually made of paper! Instead, they’re printed on a blend of 75% cotton and 25% linen. This fabric is said to have a specific feel to it when rubbed. Take the bill you wish to examine, give it a rub and compare with one you know for sure is real. You should be able to tell right away, as your fingertips are very sensitive to varying textures. What is more, the United States Mint uses a security measure called raised printing. Run your finger across the portrait of Benjamin Franklin and you’ll be able to immediately see what we mean. The image is rough to the touch, leaving tiny ‘valleys’ in between Franklin’s features. Similarly to the fabric, this is something you should be able to easily recognize.
Both the special blend of cotton and linen, as well as the raised printing, are not that easily replicated outside of the US Mint. A lack of either is a good indication that your banknote is a fake.
The size test
The dollar is heavily regulated with strict measurements. All US dollar bills have the same size and weight, the former being 2.61 inches x 6.14 inches x 0.0042 inches, and the latter – one gram.
The best way to tell if something’s not right is to stack all your bills tightly and see if there are any outliers. Even the slightest bulge on one of the sides is a sure sign that you’re holding a counterfeit.
Similarly to the sizes, the visual aspect of the US dollar is tightly controlled. The print is high quality and should stay intact despite frequent handling. This feature is quite tricky for forgers to be able to replicate, and makes it easy to tell, whether or not your bill is fake. All you have to do is perform a rather simple visual test. What we mean by that is nothing more than just looking at your banknote to see any faults in the print. While you can do it just with your eyes, we recommend using a magnifying glass and a good light source, such as an overhead desk lamp. That will allow you to notice the tiniest of details. Similarly to other tests, compare your banknote to one you know is a genuine one.
Look out for blurry print, missing elements or decolorization. Any of these is a huge red flag and an indicator that you’re holding a piece of ‘paper’ and not an actual means of payment.
Pay attention to serial numbers
This is a good piece of advice in case you came into possession of a large number of bills of the same denomination. Each banknote has a unique serial number, but newbie forgers would often go over that fact and just print their ‘money’ out in large batches, without editing their file each time. So, if your stack has 50 banknotes, all with the same serial number, you can be sure these are fakes.
Sadly, the pro forgers know better and their bills will likely have different serial numbers. However, there are some elements of the US dollar notes that are tough to replicate, even for the people who specialize in counterfeits. Read on!
The United States Mint is perfectly aware of the existence of counterfeits on the market. They also know that it’s possible, with some effort and skill, to replicate the feel, print and look of the dollar banknotes.
That’s why, in 2013, the Mint has implemented several anti-counterfeit features that are being imprinted on each banknote. These involve high-level security measures such as holograms or watermarks. Their ultimate goal is to add features to the bill that are either incredibly hard, or downright impossible to copy for forgers.
Let’s focus on the security measures of a $100 bill, which is the most frequently forged banknote, and hence, has the most elements that are hard to replicate.
The Benjamin Franklin watermark
A little known fact in history of the United States is that Benjamin Franklin had an identical twin with the same name. What’s even more surprising is that both of them found their way onto the $100 bill!
Of course, we’re kidding and none of that is true, except for the fact that there indeed are two Benjamin Franklins on the $100. The first one is the beautifully printed bust of the Founding Father. The second is a much less detailed rendition, which you can find in the blank space in the top right corner of the banknote on the front and top left on the back (he’s visible from both sides).
To see this watermark, hold your bill to the light. The image is faint, but perfectly visible with genuine banknotes.
3D security ribbon
Just right to Benjamin Franklin’s bust, you can find a vertical, blue-ish line. It’s another security measure, acting as a hologram. To see it in action, tilt your banknote back and forth. You should be able to see the 100s on the ribbon turn into bells, and vice versa. The bells and 100s move up and down when you tilt the bill from side to side. An important feature of the 3D security ribbon is that it’s not printed on the note – the US Mint weaves the strips onto each $100.
Have a look at the lower right corner of the front of your bill. Imprinted there are a numeral ‘100’, and a bell. If you look at them straight ahead, the color will be copper. However, tilt the bill and the color will shift to green. This is because these parts of the bill have an additional layer of a special ink that changes colors depending on the angle you look at them. Mesmerizing to watch, very tough to replicate.
Left from the portrait of Benjamin Franklin, there’s a vertical thread with ‘100’ and ‘USA’ imprinted on it. It is visible from both sides of the note and shines pink when exposed to UV rays.
Another tiny, but crucial detail that often goes over the heads of forgers is the microprint. It can be found in several spots on the $100 bill. First, a ‘The United States of America’ inscription on the collar of Benjamin Franklin’s shirt. Then, a ‘USA 100’ around the empty space where the watermark is. Thirdly, a ‘One Hundred USA’ along the feather, and last of all, ‘100’s around the border of the banknote.
There’s a point in adding the microprint. We wouldn’t be surprised if plenty of forgers didn’t know about the existence of these little details, or simply were unable to produce such microscopic elements. Another point for the real money gang!
There’s much more to a dollar bill than a pretty design. It’s a rectangular sheet of special fabric with features specifically designed to not be duplicated by any unauthorized person. It’s not only a means of payment, but also a little wonder of technology.
Let’s cut to the chase though – are you really in danger of counterfeits? Not really, as they are not widespread. There is approximately one fake for every 10.000 genuine banknotes. Does that mean you should not be worried? Not exactly. There’s always a chance that a counterfeit will find its way to your pocket. It might have had been spent at your local shop two months ago and given to you by an unknowing cashier as change. Or just given to you as a part of a gift by a relative. Truth is, our world is full of cash transactions and money moves all the time. A fake printed in Washington D.C. might easily travel all the way up to the East Coast and then travel to Texas. You shouldn’t get paranoid though – the chance is low and, as you know now, there are many ways to tell a counterfeit from a genuine bill.