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The Secrets of Counterfeiting

Learn about counterfeiting and what you can do to stop it!


Making money isn’t easy. If you want to make a lot of it, you have to put in a lot of hard work. Unless you’re making counterfeit money. Back in the day, counterfeiters would scrape small amounts of gold or silver from legitimate coins to use to cover lead or other cheap metals to make fake, or counterfeit, coins. Since then, the technology behind making money has become more complex. So, forgers have had to be more and more creative when it comes to how they make counterfeit bills. Here are some facts about counterfeiting you might not know!

Twenty dollar bills are the most common fakes in the U.S. Outside the U.S. it’s $100 bills. In fact, counterfeiting $100 bills is so popular that the North Korean government is rumored to have their own operation that has printed about $45 million in fake U.S. cash.girl looking at 100 dollar bill

A lot of counterfeiters end up working for the government. Once caught, and after spending their time in prison, the government often works with counterfeiters to help bust the next guy. Frank Bourassa printed about $250 million in fake U.S. cash, even getting his hands on the real rag that paper bills are printed on. He handed over most of his fake money, spent six weeks in prison, and now he helps the Canadian government track down counterfeit bills.

Coins have ridges on them to make them difficult to counterfeit. It’s a technique that has been used almost as long as coins have been in use.

Coins are still counterfeited, though. Italian police found over half a million fake euro coins in 2014.

Emerich Juettner, also known as Mister 880 after the Secret Service’s case number for him, only faked one-dollar bills. And he didn’t do it well. He often put mistakes in his counterfeits. He also only ever used one at a time and rarely at the same place twice. It took the Secret Service ten years to find him and only because neighborhood kids found some fake bills he’d thrown out after a fire.

You can help spot fake money.

  • The portrait is very hard to fake. On copied bills, it will look dark and flat. It should stand out and be lifelike.
  • The seals of the Federal Reserve and Treasury should be sharp and crisp.
  • Watermarks are hidden in the paper and only visible when held up to the light. If you can see faint markings without holding the bill up, it’s probably fake.
  • The paper isn’t paper at all, it’s cloth on a real bill. It will also have small flecks of blue and red in it.
  • Borders, spacing, and everything else are going to be crisp, clear and even on real bills.
  • If you put a real bill under ultraviolet light, it will glow. Fives glow blue, $10s glow orange, $20s glow green, $50s glow yellow, and $100s will glow red.

Whenever you get new money, check it out by looking over some of the key features. If you’re not sure, it might be best to contact your credit union for help. They will probably have to confiscate the bill, but you will have done the right thing and have a good story to tell.


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