How To Check if a Banknote is Genuine

Counterfeiting legal tender is a serious offense punishable with heavy fines and even imprisonment. However, even the act of carrying counterfeit money and using it to pay for purchases can be considered a felony, depending on where you are.

Checking whether a banknote is genuine can be easy within your own country. However, if you are traveling, you might have trouble determining whether the local currency you are holding is genuine or not. Here are a few ways to check if a banknote is genuine or not before you accept payment or before you spend them.

  • Know your bills. It’s easy to be fooled by counterfeit money if you don’t know what the real bill looks like. This can be particularly troublesome if you’re traveling in another country. You might easily accept bills as change when you buy something or when you exchange your US dollars or Euros.
  • Check the quality of the paper. No matter the currency, most bills are printed on thick, fibrous paper that does not easily tear. These also have security marks, such as watermarks and security threads. You can hold the paper against the light to see the security features. If any of the security features are absent, then the banknote might be counterfeit.
  • Get a control bill from the bank. Go to the bank and ask for an example of a real bill. You can usually have the bank break a larger bill, so you can have a few of each denomination. You can use these control bills to compare your other bills, so you can determine if they are genuine.
  • Use a money detector. These are small devices that shine ultraviolet light on a banknote. A money detector will usually bring out any security markings on a bill, which, if absent, might indicate that the bill is fake. While a money detector is not 100% reliable, it’s an easy and inexpensive way to make a quick check for authenticity.
  • Scrutinize the watermark. You can also compare your control bill with the test bill by placing them under the ultraviolet light of the money detector. While some counterfeit bills will also have watermarks, these are often of poor quality or incorrectly positioned.
  • Scrutinize the source. Banks are usually a reliable source when it comes to genuine banknotes. However, there are some rare instances when ATMs dispense bills that turn out to be counterfeit or fake. Be sure to scrutinize the bills that you receive for authenticity, whether you are receiving change for a purchase or a withdrawal from the bank.

If you discover that you are in possession of a counterfeit bill, don’t try to spend it just to pass on the burden of a counterfeit banknote to another person. Approach a bank and ask them if they can help you exchange the bill. While you have no assurance that the bank will replace your bill with a real one, it will help them coordinate with the authorities in tracking down the sources of the counterfeit bills.


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