How to Detect Counterfeit Money – Tips, Tricks & Using Specialist Machines

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Figures released by the Bank of England have revealed that there are roughly 4.7 billion banknotes in circulation at any given time in the UK, with an estimated value of £82 billion. At the same time, almost 30 billion coins are floating around the country’s economy in various denominations.

However, the statistics also revealed that an estimated one in 30,000 banknotes is counterfeit, with around three per cent of coins also showing up as fake. While these might not sound like particularly high figures, it’s worth considering that, when it comes to notes, this works at around £1.7 million in counterfeit cash, with coins adding up to around £41 million. With regard to banknotes, the £20 is the most commonly forged, while the £1 coin accounts for the majority of counterfeit coins.


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Changing the £1 coin

In their attempts to combat the counterfeiters, the Royal Mint has taken steps to make forgeries much more difficult. Most of us are aware of the introduction of polymer notes and the phasing out of their paper cousins. The £1 coin was also subject to an overhaul, sporting a 12-sided design, along with several features that have made it harder to forge. However, there are still fake coins and banknotes doing the rounds, making life difficult for those who deal with cash daily, such as in retail outlets and shops.


The legislation surrounding counterfeit cash

It almost goes without saying that the counterfeiting of banknotes and coins is illegal. The Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 outlines the specifics of creating, handling, and using fake money. However, much of the onus is on whether the person involved knows that the banknotes or coins they are using are counterfeit. The Act states that:

“(1) It is an offence for a person—

(a) to pass or tender as genuine anything which is, and which he knows or believes to be, a counterfeit of a currency note or of a protected coin; or

(b) to deliver to another anything which is, and which he knows or believes to be, such a counterfeit, intending that the person to whom it is delivered or another shall pass or tender it as genuine.

(2) It is an offence for a person to deliver to another, without lawful authority or excuse, anything which is, and which he knows or believes to be, a counterfeit of a currency note or of a protected coin.”

The act of counterfeiting UK Sterling can carry a fine and a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Knowingly using counterfeit cash can result in up to two years in prison, along with significant financial penalties.


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What to do if you suspect fake money

However, the Law understands that not everyone using fake cash is doing so knowingly. As a result, the Bank of England has published guidelines on what to do should you believe that you have received money that might not be worth the paper it’s printed on.

  • The first thing you should do is take the money in question to your nearest police station and hand it in. You’ll be asked to fill in an NC0-1 form, and the police will give you a receipt for the cash, along with a crime incident number. The money you have brought in will then be sent to the National Crime Agency for examination. Should it be deemed counterfeit, the notes and coins will then be sent to the Bank of England, where they will undergo further tests and investigation.
  • Should you be aware of someone counterfeiting money or selling or knowingly using those notes, it’s recommended that you report them to the police. However, should you wish to do so anonymously, you can contact National Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

The Bank of England states that “counterfeiting directly funds organised crime. It hurts the UK economy by creating losses for businesses, which ultimately affects the cost of things that we buy. It also affects the pocket of anyone who receives a counterfeit note, as they are worthless.”


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Signs of counterfeit cash

With the cost of living continuing to rise, it’s more important than ever that the cash in your pocket is genuine. If you’ve ever wondered how to detect counterfeit money, there are a few things you can look out for.

Of notes and coins, counterfeit coins are easier to spot. Here are the three main things you should be aware of:

  • Ensure that the date and the design match. Each year, the Royal Mint changes the design on the reverse of the £1 coin. A quick Google will let you know whether the date and design are all present and correct.
  • Check to see if the coin is ‘too shiny.’ After repeatedly changing hands, passing through coin slots, and jangling around in pockets, wallets, and purses, £1 coins become duller. Counterfeit coins tend to retain their sheen for a lot longer, which can help when deciding how to detect fake money.
  • Even the edges have their part to play. On a genuine £1 coin, the milled edges of the coin will bear an inscription that corresponds with the date it was released. The characters in the inscription will be clearly defined and evenly spaced. The inscription can be challenging to read on fake coins, and the characters may not be equally spaced.


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Fake banknotes are far harder to spot. However, there are a few tell-tale signs that can help you separate the wheat from the chaff. As the £20 is the most commonly forged of all the notes, these are the giveaways that relate directly to that denomination:

  • Check the hologram. On a genuine £20 note, you’ll find a hologram which, when tilted, changes between the words ‘Twenty,’ and ‘Pounds.’
  • Real £20 notes have two ‘windows’ cut into them, each covered with a film of foil. On the front of the note, the colours should reflect as blue and gold, while on the back, the foil should reflect as silver. The smaller window should carry a picture of the Queen (soon to be replaced with a picture of King Charles III) and the legend ‘£20 Bank of England’ featured twice along the edges.
  • Feel the note. To help the blind and visually impaired, the corner of a genuine £20 will feature a group of raised dots. These allow the partially sighted to identify the note by touch and help when you need to know how to detect counterfeit money. Similarly, the lettering on the front, which reads ‘Bank of England’, should also be slightly raised.
  • Above the main ‘window’ on a £20 note, there should be a patch of silver foil. On the genuine article, this should bear a 3-D picture of the Coronation Crown.
  • On the back of the note, you should find a round foil patch, which is purple in colour. This patch always contains the letter ‘T.’
  • All the print, colours, and lines on an authentic note should be clear, without smudging.
  • UV technology. This is one of the most indicators of whether a note is genuine. When placed under ultra-violet light, the number 20 will glow in response. Notes on which this doesn’t occur are very likely to be counterfeit. However, the UV light used in counterfeit detector machines must be of a specific frequency.


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Checking the authenticity of other denominations

Beyond the £20 note, there are other tells you can look out for when you’re dealing with other paper or polymer denominations.

  • When it comes to the faithful fiver, this note boasts all of the foil, window, and printed security features of the £20 note. The main difference is that using a counterfeit money detector, you should see the number 5 glowing red and green on the front of the note.
  • Again, the £10 note carries many of the same security features as its double-the-value counterpart – with a few exceptions. The main, see-through window houses the image of a quill pen. This picture will change between purple and orange when tilted in the light. In addition, under UV light, the number 10 will become visible across the front.
  • Aside from the legend ‘£50 Bank of England’ featured around the edges of the smaller, oval-shaped window to the left of the note, the £50 note carries many of the same authentication marks as the £20 note. Under UV light, the number 50 will be revealed, rendered in red and green.


image showing different British notes laid on top of each other


A better method of detection

While learning how to detect counterfeit money in coin form is relatively easy, being sure that the paper note you’re spending or receiving can be a lot harder. However, whether you work in a shop or another retail outlet or want to know that everything in your wallet or purse is legitimate, there are better, quicker, and more efficient ways to check. The development of the counterfeit money detector has helped to remove some 74,000 fake notes from circulation each year. If you’re unaware of counterfeit detector machines and how to use counterfeit money detection technology, here’s an overview of what you should be looking for.


How a counterfeit money detector works

Counterfeit money detector machines expose banknotes to a specific frequency of ultraviolet light – 365 nanometres. This is a measurement of the amount of UV light that the note is exposed to. If a note is authentic, certain parts of the note, printed using UV-reactive ink, will glow and fluoresce, letting you know it’s the genuine article. If those areas of print fail to react, you will likely be dealing with a dud.

Other types of counterfeit money detector devices are designed to detect the magnetic pigments and threads woven into some parts of authentic banknotes. Once the detector has registered the presence of materials, such as iron oxide, it will signal the user that the note is the real thing.

Further models use infrared technology to pick up on two types of ink used to manufacture genuine £20 notes. When placed in an infrared counterfeit detector, one ink will respond by glowing red, while the other will react by turning black.

It’s also worth noting that UV counterfeit money detector machines can test the validity of all official currencies, passports, identification cards, credit cards, and driving licenses.


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How to choose a counterfeit money detector

Choosing the right counterfeit detector might feel like a daunting prospect, but with certain things in mind, the process should be relatively straightforward. The first thing worth considering is how the detector will be used. If you’re using yours for occasional domestic checks, a handheld device should be enough to get the job done. However, suppose you’re working in a busy environment where cash comes in large amounts and needs to be checked efficiently without wasting too much time. In that case, an automatic counterfeit money detector is likely the way forward.

Modern automatic detectors leave nothing to chance. In addition to using UV light, you’ll find those that offer seven-point checking systems so that you can be absolutely sure whether the notes you’re looking at are genuine or not. When it comes to saving time, some will deal with large quantities of paper or polymer money in seconds. These models tend to be mains-powered, so there’s no chance of battery failure when you really don’t need it.


Retailers and counterfeit cash

The Bank of England has issued guidelines explicitly aimed at retailers who may find themselves in possession of counterfeit money. The bottom line is to contact the police or, where possible, hand in the suspect note to the nearest police station. However, as retailers are regularly targeted as a banknote is far more likely to slip through the net in a busy environment, there are suggestions to keep staff safe. These include simply refusing the note and reporting it at a later time.

While counterfeit cash hasn’t yet swamped the UK economy, there are still enough rogue notes and coins at play to cause problems for anyone who comes into contact with them. For the best in authentication and protection, a counterfeit money detector is a smart investment.

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