Detecting Counterfeit Money Without Any confused
Posted by Franklinpaker on May 31st, 2020
Real looking counterfeit money is a growing problem for retailers and financial institutions alike. Every day brings new stories from every corner of the country of fraudsters passing fake cash at restaurants, bars, shops, and everywhere in between. This,despite a number of sophisticated anti-counterfeiting features designed into the U.S. banknotes. The problem is that many clerks still do not know what exactly these features are, and how to look for them. With that in mind, we here at Fraud Fighter have made an easy, illustrated guide on detecting real looking counterfeit money. Follow along through the five sections of our guide, including:
1. Serial numbers
2. Color-shifting ink
3. Microprinting & fine lines
4. Intaglio printing and - most importantly
5. UV-light reactive thread
And you will be much better prepared to find fake notes of every kind.
Every U.S. dollar comes with a serial number consisting of a two-letter prefix, followed by an eight-digit code and a single suffix letter. The prefix letters run from "A" to "L", for the 12 Federal Reserve districts that print money, and are printed in dark green ink. Counterfeiters are often not aware of the pattern behind the serial numbers, and put out any random letter-number combinations on bogus bills. Additionally, most counterfeiters have trouble with the spacing on the serial numbers. Look at the example from a genuine 0 bill, below. Note the darkish-green color of the writing, and the even spaces between the numbers and letters.
Pay particular attention to the green ink used to print seals and serial numbers on the bank notes: counterfeiters oftentimes cannot replicate the colors used by the U.S. Treasury. The color used on the serial number should be dark green and consistent throughout the entire serial number. There should be no color fading or chipping. The color should match exactly the ink used for printing the Treasury Seal. The numbers should be uniformly spaced and level.
Now let's look at a fake bill.
Right away you can see the lighter shade of green used on the serial numbers. This is precisely why real looking counterfeit money prefer to hand over their bills in dimly lit locations, like bars. Also notice the wear on the "0" at the top row, another sure sign of tampering. Finally, notice how off the spacing is: on genuine currency, you would never see the second row indented to the right and placed so far down on the bill that it almost overlaps with the seal. Anytime you notice any irregular spacing of this sort, you are almost certainly dealing with a forgery.
Below is a closeup of one of the most difficult to replicate printed security features on US banknotes - the color-shifting ink used on the numerals located in the lower-right corner on the front of the bill.
On genuine banknotes of denominations and up the green color will "shift" to black or copper as you tilt the bill vertically back and forth to change the viewing angle. From 1996, when this feature was introduced, until 2003, the color changed from green to black. Editions 2006 and later change from green to copper (you can always check the edition year on the bottom of the front side of the bill).
This next picture is from a real looking counterfeit money bills. While it would look the same as the previous one when viewed from a straight-on angle, the color does not change as you tilt and move it around.
The "optically variable ink", as it is officially called, used to produce this effect is not widely commercially available. Most of it comes from a Swiss manufacturer SICPA, which granted the U.S. exclusive rights to the green-and-black and green-and-copper ink used for printing dollars. Fraudsters cannot get it at any store; nor can they create the effect with any copiers, which only "see" and duplicate patterns from a fixed angle.
Microprinting & Fine Lines
The dollar printing machinery that allows use of rainbow color-changing ink can also create some extremely fine printed detail around the portraits. This kind of precision is hard to match with regular printers and copiers; attempts to do so usually result in smudging, blurring and general lack of sharpness. As an example, take a look at this detail from a real 0 note.
A thin layer of microprinting can be seen in the lapel of Franklin's jacket. Fine lines that almost look like threads in the jacket run horizontally across the portrait, and the words "The United States of America" appear around the collar.
Similar microprinting also appears with the words "USA 100" inside the numbers of the lower left "100" of the bill. Fine details of this sort are created by stamping ink on paper using steel plates at very high pressures, and are quite difficult to accurately reproduce. The process, called intaglio printing, also produces an embossed raised-ink feel to the paper: you can literally feel the picture by moving your fingers over it.
The microprinting locations and words differ for each denomination. More importantly than remembering the specifics for each one, however, is looking over the line sharpness with the naked eye. real looking counterfeit money will typically have very unclear printing around the portrait. In most cases, the lines will be blurred, broken or even completely absent. A typical fake would look something like the picture below.
You do not need a magnifying glass to tell that something is wrong here. Anytime you see blurred or unclear printing around the portrait, even if you can't tell exactly where it is wrong, you are very likely dealing with a real looking counterfeit money.
The presses needed to produce fine lines around the portraits are not the ordinary ones used for, say, newspaper printing. In fact, they even have a special name - intaglio, from the Italian word meaning to carve or engrave, which almost exactly describes how the process works for U.S. dollars.
Where regular presses need just enough contact to transfer the ink to the paper, the ones making the dollar have to be precise enough to fit the words "USA 100" multiple times across the width of the digits in the 0 bill. These are not mere printed lines in U.S. dollars; they are essentially ink-filled grooves produced by very heavy (something on the order of 20 tons) pressure. The tremendous forces of the ink plates that force ink inside the grooves also create individual "ridges" which can actually be felt by running a finger across the paper.
Banknotes issued before 2004 had a frame around the portrait of the president, with circular lines running concentrically around it. The result, as you can see in the magnification above, is an incredibly detailed image. Although banknotes after 2005 dropped the oval frame, they kept the details on the portraits themselves.
Your typical real looking counterfeit money will not fully duplicate the level of detail: it would likely have smudged or scratched fine lines and a smooth to the touch surface; overall, looking somewhat like the picture below.
High-end modern copiers are getting better at reproducing the visual effect of fine semi-circular lines you see running around the face, but without intaglio printing presses, they cannot duplicate the raised-ink feel of genuine dollars. A smooth surface or noticeable breaks in the fine lines within the portrait are sure signs of a forgery.
As tough as all the printing and numbering is to replicate, the toughest feature of all is a simple plastic thread embedded in all bills and larger - and you can't even see it under normal light. But place a bill like the 20 in the example below under an ultraviolet light real looking counterfeit moneydetector, and the thread lights up a bright primary color. If the thread is not there, or if the color is wrong, you have a real looking counterfeit money.
Genuine U.S. money is mostly cotton paper and special ink, neither of which contain the glowing element on the thread, phosphor. Put them under ultraviolet light and they appear dark, emitting no color. The security ribbons, on the other hand, are coated with phosphors that glow noticeably under UV lights, which each denomination glowing a different color due to the different chemicals in the phosphor coating.
Five-dollar bills glow blue under blacklights. A glows orange, s are green, s are yellow, and the 100-dollar bill will have a red strip. For more advanced security, they are placed in differing locations for each denomination - our QuickGuide has excellent easy-to-follow illustration for both the position and the color for each one.
UV-light security features are commonly used in many identification documents as well, with the same UV detectors that check for real looking counterfeit moneymoney also useful for checking for fake IDs. Many government-issued identification documents - from drivers' licenses to passports - now employ some form of ultraviolet light-reactive lettering or seals.
Detecting Real Looking Counterfeit Money
Fraudsters never cease to come up with clever ways to make fake money with the newest technologies. The more sophisticated among them may even convincingly replicate a security feature or two - perhaps, the fine lines around the portrait or the serial number at the top. But they will not be able to convincingly replicate all five at the same time. Most importantly in checking for real looking counterfeit money is trusting your instinct: if you are suspicious of a bogus bill, run it through one of the tests laid out here. If you are still unsure, run it through a couple more. If it's truly a counterfeit, it will fail one of them right away.
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Also See: Real Looking, Looking Counterfeit, Counterfeit Money, Fine Lines, Serial, Real, Printing
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