Learn How to Detect Counterfeit Money

It’s believed that 70 million counterfeit dollars are in circulation today. So chances are, if you haven’t already used one, you’ll probably see one soon. How can you stay safe? Simple: learn to identify fakes on-sight. Read on if you want to learn how to detect counterfeit money.

How do you identify counterfeit money?

Want to know if a dollar is the real deal? Try these tricks!

Look into the light

If you want to know if a dollar is real, just look for the President’s twin!

When you hold a dollar up to a light, you’ll see a double image — a holographic picture of the portrait on the currency. If the dollar is real, that holograph will depict the same President that you see printed. But if it’s only a $5 bleached to look like a $100, you’ll see Honest Abe instead of Ben Franklin.

Also, when held up to a light, you should see a thin vertical strip of text spelling out the bill’s denomination. If it’s the wrong figure, it’s a fake!

Watch the colors change

Look at the number in the bottom right corner of the dollar. When you tip the note to the right and left, you should see the color of that number change from black to green (or green to black, depending on how you hold it).

Follow the thread

This one also requires a light. When you hold a dollar up to a light source, you can find a thin embedded strip running vertically up the paper. In $5, $20, and $100 notes, that strip should be to the left of the printed portrait. In $10 and $50 bills, it’ll be on the right.

Use a UV light

If you carry an ultraviolet light around, it can also help you detect counterfeit money! When exposed to UV light, each denomination glows a different color. If the dollar is real, you’ll see the following:

  • $5 bills glow blue.
  • $10 glows orange.
  • $20 glows green.
  • $50 glows yellow.
  • $100 glows red.

If you see the wrong color (or no glow at all), you’re holding a fake dollar.

Read between the (fine) lines

Look closely at the images on your dollar. Is it run through with very fine lines? In an authentic dollar, there should be fine lines behind both the images on the front and back.

Get your hands on it

If all else fails, feel it with your fingers! Compare the texture of the suspicious bill with the one you know to be genuine. The paper used for money has a very thin, fine, crispy feel.

For more information (and for details on identifying older dollars), check out the Secret Service’s tips on how to detect counterfeit money.

What should you do when you detect counterfeit money?

First and foremost, don’t fling any accusations around. There are older dollars still in circulation, which may not have the exact characteristics listed above but are still totally legal currency. Plus, if you are dealing with a counterfeiter, confronting them could be dangerous.

But what if you’ve confirmed that a note is counterfeit — if, for example, the holographic image doesn’t match the printed portrait? Don’t refuse to accept the dollar, as this could incite a confrontation. Instead, note down the spender’s description, and write down any identifying information. Avoid handling the counterfeit note, as it is now evidence. If you have access to the spender’s license plate, write down the plate number. Then notify the local police.

What should you do if you live outside the United States?

If you live outside the United States and want to report counterfeit currency, you can notify the U.S. Secret Service field office in your region. The Law Enforcement section uscurrency.gov offers contact information for U.S. Secret Service field offices around the world.


For more information on what to do with counterfeit money, visit uscurrency.gov. And if you’re looking for a safe place to stash your real money, check out these top-rated savings accounts.