What Does Fake Money Look Like?

by , Last Updated: 14 November 2014

Counterfeit money will cause problems for you as well as for businesses; we show you how to spot fake notes and counterfeit coins so you know what to look for.

Man counting twenty pound notes

Did you know that it's illegal to use counterfeit money?

Of course, fake notes and coins probably pass through your hands on a regular basis without anyone noticing; but crucially the law means that you won't be reimbursed if the notes or coins you try to pay with get rejected.

If this happens you'll be left with cash you can't spend or trade in - even if you received the money from a bank originally. Your only real option is to hand it in to the police and stomach the loss.

Importantly, you have the right to request alternative payment if you suspect the money offered is actually illegal tender.

This means you need to protect yourself by understanding how to spot fake money before you walk out the shop door.

How to spot fake notes

  • Real bank notes are 'woven' and feel cloth-like, while fakes feel more papery
  • True bank notes have relief printing so that some text, particularly the main Bank of England title, feels raised from the paper
  • All genuine bank notes have crisp lines and quality printing all over - including their watermarks and holograms
  • Bank notes also have a metallic thread woven from the top to bottom. Held up to the light, it looks like an unbroken line
  • The watermark of the Queen's face should only be visible when held up to the light. If you can see it in normal light, be suspicious
  • Holograms on real 5, 10 and old-style 20 bank notes should alternate between the note's denomination and a colourful Britannia.
  • Holograms on real 20 notes are in a strip, one showing Adam Smith and the other alternating between a pound sign and its denomination
  • The new 20 note incorporates a series of dashes that resolve into a sign when held up to the light
  • Admittedly not an on-the-spot check; real bank notes show their denomination in tiny swirls underneath the Queen's portrait (needs a magnifying glass)
  • Under a UV light, the note's denomination should glow while the rest stays dull

How to spot counterfeit coins

  • On real coins the milling (lines around the edge of the coin) should be consistently spaced and the same depth all the way round
  • The designs should match with the date displayed around the coin's edge and on its face; check them out on The Royal Mint website
  • The design on both the head-side and tail-side of the coin should be in the exact middle, and share orientation with each other (both pointing 'up')
  • Designs should be well defined, and raised from the coin's face

If you give your notes and coins a quick once-over before pocketing them, you may be able to spot a fake and save yourself a headache.


Useful guide, Bill. Thanks.

We discovered some fake coins circulating in the local pub. They were kept in a separate pot behind the bar and given out in change to regular customers who could then spend them again.

Strictly illegal I know but, as long as the landlord never actually banked them and the customers didn't try to spend them anywhere else, we had our own little bit of quantitative easing!

Well, if it's OK for the Bank of England........;-))

by Feline123, 10 Jun 2013

we are lucky here m8..over on the continent, passing on a fake note is a criminal offence with shopkeepers handing you over to the police!.....Be especially way of 50 euro notes.....!

by 33046, 12 Jun 2013

What amazes me is that there is a 500 Euro note, which roughly equates to a 400 quid note. It's difficult enough to spend a £50 note here, which is our largest denomination.

by Feline123, 12 Jun 2013

Apparantly ,puss, use of these 500s is severely restricted these days because 90% are said to be in the hands of criminials/money launderers!.......I had one of these beasts once, and got looks of amazement in Madrid when I spent it! The 200s are quite rare also.

by 33046, 12 Jun 2013


by Feline123, 13 Jun 2013

funny you know....the other week I was given a fake pound coin in my change at our local friendly Indian corner shop. I was none the wiser, but mum picked up on it when I passed it on to her to pay for some shopping.
So I took it back to the same shop and spent it again with the friendly Indians.....
Sometimes it works in our favour when people have only been in the country 5 minutes and don't know the difference!

by 33046, 12 Jun 2013

There are so many fake £1 coins in circulation - some of them very good quality - it is hard to go shopping without collecting one. They are so common no-one really bothers about them anymore.

by Bonz1957, 12 Jun 2013

I'll go and have a look in my purse Bonz. If I find any I can, at least, launder them in the boozer!

by Feline123, 12 Jun 2013

I just used to put them in a coin bag with 18 or 19 good ones and pay them into a bank. They never picked up on it!!

by Bonz1957, 12 Jun 2013

That's interesting, Bonz. I thought I'd heard that they may be lighter in weight than real ones but, looking back, that's not mentioned in Bill's guide so I'm probably mistaken and you could easily get rid of them that way. Not that I would ever do such a thing, of course....;-))

by Feline123, 12 Jun 2013

Some of the early fakes were lighter, but those pesky crims have got smarter over the years!!

by Bonz1957, 12 Jun 2013


by Feline123, 12 Jun 2013
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