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 19 May 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

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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