How to Detect Counterfeit Money at the Onsite Registration Desk

MoneyIf you work onsite registration at a conference, you may find yourself occasionally in the position of accepting cash. You probably have already taken steps to make sure onsite registration payments go smoothly such as having a cash box, a good online registration system with a strong onsite module, and a procedure for transferring cash and checks to the office manager, possibly including a safe for overnight holding.

One thing that may not have occurred to you is a process for identifying counterfeit money. Retailers often have procedures to check large cash denominations because this is what they do every day. For meeting managers, however, dealing with cash is less frequent and so this issue is generally overlooked. If you are receiving cash payments in $20, $50, and $100 denominations, you probably should consider the possibility that some bills may be counterfeit. The person handing you the money is probably not the criminal, but for large bills, this bad money can find their way into anybody’s hands.

Here are some basic techniques to help you spot possible counterfeits.

  • Include a $20, $50, and $100 bills in your cash box – in addition to your bills for breaking change. You will need these to compare good after bad.

  • Feel the texture of the bill. If it is too smooth or feels more like printer paper, your suspicions should be raised.

  • Look at the center portraits. Besides comparing the photos, does the center portrait stand out or is it of the same quality as the rest of the bill. The Secret Service’s states that the portrait is “lifeless and flat” in counterfeits. Money printing has its own unique printing process that counterfeiters are hard-pressed to duplicate. The portrait is one such example.

  • Examine the serial numbers at the front of the bill. They should match and have similar spacing and look. Of course, if you have two bills with the same serial number then you have a big problem.

  • Look for any blurring around the borders. You may need a magnifying glass for this one. Legitimate currencies are very detailed and sharp around the borders, something counterfeits have difficulty in duplicating. This is especially the case with the Federal Reserve and Treasury seals.

  • Note the colored fibers in the paper. Real money has the fibers built into the paper. Counterfeiters try to simulate this by printing the fibers with the other aspects of the currency. In these cases, however, the fibers are printed on the paper rather than being part of it.

  • The last simple check is to hold the bill up to the light and look at the transparency of the paper. In particular, the image on the other side of the portrait should be very clear if held up against the light. Some subtleties here are the color shifting ink and the watermark. The former is on the currency amount in the lower right. It changes from a brownish hue when looked straight on to the standard denomination green color when tilted.

  • If you are suspicious in any way, compare the bill with the matching counterpart in your cash box.

To find out more about this fascinating topic, check out the Secret Service’s Know Your Money campaign website.

The Federal Reserve and Treasury department are fighting an ongoing war against counterfeiters. A new $100 bill was introduced in 2013 with its own unique traits for fighting this battle. We will look into these features in the next article.