What does fake money look like?

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.

Updated on 10 June 2015.

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.

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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

Are old 20 notes legal?

20 notes which feature the image of composer, Sir Edward Elgar, are no longer be legal tender, however most banks, building societies and the Post Office will still allow you to deposit them in your account or use them for other transactions for the next few months. However, exchanging your Elgars for Smiths is entirely at the discretion of your bank or building society.

You can also exchange your Elgars at face value directly with the Bank of England. This can either be done in person or by sending your money to their headquarters on Threadneedle Street in London. Of course, sending your money via post or courier is done entirely at your own risk.

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.

Written by at money.co.uk

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Spending with a credit card offers extra protection from scammers and fraudsters with Section 75 cover. Compare credit cards to find one that suits how you spend.
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