Counterfeit Money – Tips to Avoid Fakes at Home and When Travelling

Would you notice if you were handed a fake bank note? It can be hard enough to tell the difference with currency you are familiar with, but even more difficult when travelling in a foreign country. Many people are unaware that either knowingly or innocently passing along counterfeit money could result in a fine or even a spell in jail. This is definitely something you want to avoid when travelling. For those who have never given it much thought it is worth spending some time learning how to spot forgeries.

Never take risks with your hard-earned cash when travelling. Use legitimate Bureaux de Change or banks to exchange currency and avoid changing money on the street, no matter how tempting an offer may appear.

There are many different ways to check for counterfeit notes. Businesses use ultra-violet light machines, automatic note checkers, marker pens or other gadgets. However, the average person at home, or travelling, has to rely on their wits and senses.

After exchanging your travel money at a legitimate bank or Bureaux de Change, take some time to examine the notes you receive. Feel the texture and observe the quality and clarity of the print, especially if parts of the print are raised rather than flat. It is said that the easiest way to spot a fake, other than by using a gadget, is by the feel of it. Bank notes are normally printed on paper made from a mixture of cotton and linen which has a distinct feel and is very different from ordinary paper. Currency varies from country to country and unwary travellers are often targeted.

Here are a few tips to help you become a savvy traveller and avoid getting stuck with counterfeit notes:

If in good condition a bank note should feel crisp, never slippery or limp
Notes should carry a watermark, which can be seen when held up to the light
A genuine note may have a metallic thread embedded into the paper
Genuine notes often have red and blue fibers woven into the paper
Check for a hologram, or colour-shifting ink
Images and text should be sharp, not fuzzy or smudged

Be wary of accepting bank notes in high denominations. Despite claims that the Euro is practically counterfeit-proof there has been a problem with fake Euros in circulation in recent years and the 50 Euro note has been a favourite among forgers. Forged notes are more likely to be made in smaller denominations. For example, a £50/$50 note attracts immediate attention and scrutiny, whereas a £20/$20 note usually does not and is easier to palm off on an unsuspecting victim.

One method crooks often use is to bleach the paper of a legitimate note and reprint it in a higher denomination. Counterfeit notes are often torn or crumpled deliberately to hide evidence of forgery and appear genuine.

Counterfeit currency is mostly confined to bank notes, but occasionally coins are forged. Counterfeit British pound coins have been in circulation but are relatively easy to spot – once you know what to look for.

It is not possible to explain all the intricacies of spotting a dud in every currency in this article, but perhaps it will help to raise awareness of the problem – especially for travellers in foreign countries. The Bank of England’s website and its ‘Take a Closer Look’ section provides very good information and is an excellent place to start to learn what to look for. Their website contains useful information, including demonstrations, a very watchable ten-minute film, videos, and educational materials. Check for similar information provided by the banks or governments of other countries.

Businesses have the right to refuse to accept currency they suspect to be forged, and you should do the same – especially if a note appears damaged or suspicious. If you end up with a counterfeit note you will be stuck with it and should hand it in to the police. Be aware that your travel insurance will not cover financial losses of this type either.

The hard truth is that a forged bank note is as worthless as Monopoly money. A bank will not exchange it for real money – and there is no return to Go!

Jean Andrews is an employee of Travel Insurance Agencies Ltd (TIA Ltd). Jean regularly contributes informative articles about travel insurance and travel related matters.