Compliance Answers: How to Detect Counterfeit Bills


Our compliance team offers a few helpful tips on the steps to take if your credit union has been passed a counterfeit bill.

The proper procedure is to use a counterfeit pen on all large bills (50s and 100s). The practice will assure the credit union and its members that they are not passing along counterfeit bills. It may be necessary to mark additional bills due to the operation of counterfeit rings and other circumstances. However, it also helps to be familiar with the look and feel of each bill to help identify a counterfeit note.

If you receive a counterfeit bill:

  • Do not return it to the passer.
  • Delay the passer if possible, if you feel it is an intentional act on their behalf.
  • Observe the passer’s description, as well as that of any companions, to aid law enforcement. If possible, obtain the license numbers on any vehicle used.
  • Notify your supervisor, who will in turn contact the local police department or the U.S. Secret Service field office.
  • Write your initials and the date in the white border areas of the suspect note, along with the initials of the person surrendering the bill(s).
  • Limit handling of the note. Carefully place it in a protective covering, such as an envelope.
  • Surrender the note or coin to your supervisor for proper reporting. The designated person will complete a Counterfeit Note Report, From SSF1604, and forward it to the local U.S. Secret Service Field Office:
    1. Idaho: 550 West Fort Street, #730, Boise, ID 83724
    2. Oregon: 805 SW Broadway, Suite 520, Portland, OR 97205
    3. Washington: 2101 Fourth Avenue, Suite 1600, Seattle, WA 98121, or 528 E Spokane Falls Blvd, #600, Spokane, WA 99202
  • The member should be given a manual receipt for the transaction. If the suspected bill is deemed authentic, the member will be credited for the amount.

How to detect counterfeit money                                                         

Look at the money you receive.  Compare a suspect note with a genuine note of the same denomination and series, paying attention to the quality of printing and paper characteristics.  Look for differences, not similarities.


The genuine portrait appears lifelike and stands out distinctly from the background. The counterfeit portrait is usually lifeless and flat. Details merge into the background, which is often too dark or mottled.

Federal Reserve and Treasury Seals

On a genuine bill, the sawtooth points of the Federal Reserve and Treasury seals are clear, distinct, and sharp.  The counterfeit seals may have uneven, blunt, or broken sawtooth points.


The fine lines in the border of a genuine bill are clear and unbroken.  On the counterfeit, the lines in the outer margin and scrollwork may be blurred and indistinct.

Serial Numbers

Genuine serial numbers have a distinctive style and are evenly spaced.  The serial numbers are printed in the same ink colors as the Treasury seal. On a counterfeit, the serial numbers may differ in color or shade of ink from the Treasury seal. The numbers may not be uniformly spaced or aligned.


Genuine currency paper has tiny red and blue fibers embedded throughout.  Often counterfeiters try to simulate these fibers by printing tiny red and blue lines on their paper. Close inspection reveals, however, that on the counterfeit note the lines are printed on the surface, not embedded in the paper.  It is illegal to reproduce distinctive paper used in the manufacturing of United States currency.

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Questions? Contact the Compliance Hotline: 1.800.546.4465,

Posted in Compliance News, Compliance News.