How to Tell If Your Cash Is Counterfeit

Once the electrical grid goes down, it’s possible that no matter how much money you have in a bank account, you might not be able to access any of it.

In a crisis, electronic financial transactions could very well grind to a halt… possibly for a long time. And if that’s the case, cash will be king, at least for a while.

Before that happens, how do you know whether your cache of cash – not to mention what you carry around in your wallet – is real? The U.S. Secret Service tells us there is approximately $9 million in counterfeit bills circulating in the country right now.

The battle is intense between those in government producing bills that are extremely difficult to counterfeit and those who are trying to use advances in digital printing to produce bills that are so real looking that individuals and store owners can’t tell the difference.

If you want to know whether any of your bills are counterfeit, or if you handle money at your job and want to make sure your employer doesn’t get ripped off, here are seven things to look for:

Color Shifts – Check out the denomination near the lower right corner of the bill. When you look directly down at that number, it should be copper in color. But when you turn the bill and look at that number from an angle, it should appear more green if it’s a genuine bill.

Printing Raised – Authentic U.S. currency will include slightly raised printing. Run your fingernail over the bill slowly. You should feel some vibration from the ridges on the bill.

Blurry Printing – If any of the wording on the bill near the borders is blurry, there is a chance that it is fake. Real bills are produced in great detail with extremely precise die-cut printing plates.

Colorful Threads – Woven throughout the fabric of a legitimate bill are tiny blue and red threads. Counterfeiters try to duplicate this, but their threads are often too close to the surface and can be felt.

Watch the Watermark – Every real bill has a watermark, usually depicting the face that is also on the bill (Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, for example). It must be on the right side of the front of the bill and should only be seen when the bill is held up to light.

Security Strip – This thread, also seen only when a bill is held up to light, runs vertically and features the wording “USA 20” (for a $20 bill). It’s on the left side of $20 and $100 bills, and on the right side on $5, $10 and $50 bills. An additional security step involves running the bill under UV light, where the strip will appear a different color for each denomination (pink for the $100 bill, yellow for the $50, green for the $20, orange for the $10 and blue for the $5).

Serial Numbers – You’d have to be a pretty lazy counterfeiter to mess this up, but the first letter in a serial number should match up with the year of printing on the bill. Examples are E=2004, G=2004A, I=2006, J=2009 and L=2009A.

Chances are you don’t have any counterfeit bills in your wallet. But if you do, alert a bank officer rather than trying to spend it.


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