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How to Spot Counterfeit Money

Don't accept fake money with these tips!


In an era where technology makes counterfeiting easier, an estimated $70-$200 million in fake bills circulate anytime. Astonishingly, about 60% of these are within the United States. What are the most commonly counterfeited denominations? The $20 and $100 bills.

Read More More Security Tips

Table of Contents

  1. Check the Watermark
  2. Feel the Paper and Check for Textures
  3. Check for Identifying Markings
  4. Match the Security Thread
  5. Stay Vigilant and Report Counterfeits
  6. Meet Our Expert: Cathy

Check the Watermark

All U.S. currency from the $5 bill and up have a visible watermark when the bill is held up to the light. Except for the $5 bill, whose watermark is simply a 5, all of the watermarks should match the portrait on the bill. If there is no watermark, the bill may be a fake.

Feel the Paper and Check for Textures

U.S. currency is uniquely printed on a blend of one-fourth linen and three-fourths cotton, unlike counterfeit bills, which often use standard paper. Authentic bills also feature red and blue security fibers woven into the fabric, not merely sitting on the surface.

Additionally, all genuine U.S. bills exhibit some form of raised printing; a completely smooth bill is likely counterfeit. Check for areas expected to be raised to ensure the bill's authenticity.

Check for Identifying Markings

  • 3D Security Ribbon: Found on the $100 bill, containing moving bells within the weave
  • Security Threads: Visible in all bills $5 and up when held to the light, positioned to the right or left of the portrait. Colors and texts vary by denomination

The legal currency also has additional symbols that can assist with identification - the $5 depicts the Great Seal, $10 depicts the torch of the Statue of Liberty, $20 depicts an eagle, $50 depicts stars, and $100 depicts a quill.

Match the Security Thread

Under light, ensure the bill has a security thread listing the correct denomination. Use ultraviolet light to verify the thread's color:

  • $5: Blue
  • $10: Orange
  • $20: Green
  • $50: Yellow
  • $100: Pink

Magnify the Microprint

Have you ever seen the tiny micro text scattered around your paper bills? This is called “microprinting” and is commonly used to identify a bill’s legitimacy. While all bills $5 and up contain different text based on denomination, this text should always be clear and easy to read with a magnifying glass. The bills are likely fake if the text is even remotely blurry or absent.

Staying Vigilant

If you find yourself in possession of a counterfeit bill, report it to local authorities immediately. Avoid touching the bill excessively and cover it or seal it in a bag to preserve any fingerprints that may have been left behind. It’s also important to remember that the person who gave you the counterfeit bill may not realize they had a fake. Provide information about the person who used the bill to law enforcement, but do not confront or accuse the individual.

For more information on fraud, along with additional security resources, visit

Meet Cathy

Cathy Ehnen - Headshot

Cathy began her career at FSB 33 years ago, working the first 25 years in Retail Operations and the last eight years in the Fraud department. Cathy attends multiple seminars annually on banking fraud and security and has a strong network of contacts with local FIs and law enforcement. Cathy considers her role at FSB to be the first line of fraud prevention for customers and the bank.

Questions about fraud related topics? Contact Cathy today!

Call 319-730-6970
This email is not secure, please do not include sensitive financial information.

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