Supply chain · 16 April 2018

Counterfeit cash: How to spot fake notes at home and abroad

The International Currency Exchange, has pulled together tips on how to spot fake notes.

The UK is still a while away from being a cashless society with, cash accounting for 43 per cent of financial purchases. Whilst the thought of being conned is enough to turn our blood cold at the best of times, the feeling is even worse whilst abroad.

To help you spot the imitation from the real deal and to stop any fear of having your money rejected, International Currency Exchange, has pulled together handy tips on how to spot fake notes.

British Pounds

One key point to remember with British currency is that every note in the UK varies in size – with notes getting slightly larger as they increase in value. So, if you’ve got a £5 note that’s the same size as a £10 note, one of them is definitely fake.

Not only this, but we have the new £5 & £10, and the classic £20 & £50 and you need to look out for different things on each.

A real £5 & £10 note has a transparent window with a clearly defined portrait of the Queen and the value of the note printed twice around the edge.

For the £20 and £50 notes, when holding the note up to the light and checking the watermark you should see an image of the Queen in the clear oval area in the middle of the note. Also, a thread should show up as a continuous dark line.

With the £20 note, a dashed silver metallic thread runs from top to bottom on the note’s reverse side.
When held up to an ultraviolet light, the number on each note should appear vibrant and bright – contrasting dramatically against a dull background.

Running your finger across the front of the note you should feel raised print across the words “Bank of England”. For the £5 & £10 note, the ultraviolet effect will make the number of the value on the note appear in bright red and green.


By tilting a €50,€100, €200 or €500 note, you should notice the numbers changing colour from purple to olive green or brown. If it’s real, that is.

Check the microprint through a magnifying glass.  If clear and sharp, it’s good to go. Run your fingers across the note. You should be able to feel that in parts, it is slightly bumpy where the print is raised.

US Dollars

 To test a dollar bill, fold one side of the bill before unfolding it to an angle of roughly 130˚. Hover a magnet over the ‘1’ and watch closely. If the bill moves, it’s real.

Check the serial number – if the number is a different number to the Treasury Seal, or matches that of another note, it’s a fake.

According to the Secret Service, outside borders should be “clear and unbroken” – meaning if your bill is blurred or fractured, it could be a fake. Serial numbers are the biggest giveaways on these notes. There is normally a new series of 100 dollar bills printed every decade due to the sheer volume of counterfeit notes in circulation in America.

Australian Dollars

When held to the light, you should be able to spot the Australian Coat of Arms towards the right-hand side of the note.

Darker areas of banknotes use a special raised ink and can be felt with your finger. If this area is flat, it could be a fake. Look for the round circle with the diamond-shaped pattern, then hold it up to the light. If real, the patterns will line up to form a seven-pointed star.

Japanese Yen

Check the cherry blossom – if real, this hologram will change colour and design when the note is tilted.

When the banknote is viewed from a certain angle, the value of the note will appear on the bottom left of the front side, while the word “NIPPON” (“Japan” in Japanese) will show on the top right of the back. Under ultraviolet light, if the note is real, the Governor’s seal on the front side should glow orange.

Mexican Peso

In the newest series of notes, there is a security thread that acts as a passive radio frequency reflector. So, when the note is exposed to a specific frequency of radio waves, the note responds.

All banknotes in Mexico have a “watermark” added to them.

When you view the note through a back-light, the silhouette image should appear in an otherwise clear area of the note.

Larger notes have what’s known as a security bar printed on them. This thread-like structure should look perfectly complete when held up to the light.

Canadian Dollars

To the right-hand side of a Canadian note, check that the large frame that houses a metallic portrait of the Queen and a building is transparent. This is a great way of finding what’s fake and what’s not

In the large window on the right of the note is a large building – tilt the note to see this building change colour. If it stays the same, you know you’ve got a fake. As well as a transparent window to the right of the note, there’s a maple leaf with a transparent background located to the left-hand side of the queen.                                                                                                                                                        

United Arab Emirates Dirham

Several counterfeiting measures are in place to ensure that fraudsters cannot forge the UAE Dirham. However, one way to double check is to feel the note itself. If the note is smooth all over, there’s a chance it could be a fake.

Under ultraviolet light, the value of the note should appear in bright red, gold and green.

It’s also worth checking the metallic thread that runs across the note. If this thread appears as one dark, unbroken line, then there’s a strong chance it’s genuine.


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Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

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