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The amount of counterfeit currency in circulation in the United States is very small—only 3/100ths of 1 percent of total currency. About 75 percent of all known counterfeit currency is seized before it reaches the public.

But it is in your interest always to examine any currency you receive because you must assume the loss for any counterfeit note you accept. Perhaps the following suggestions from the U.S. Secret Service will help you spot one:

Look closely at the workmanship of several features. On genuine notes, the portrait and the picture on the back of the note stand out sharply from the background, and the eyes in the portrait appear lifelike. Numbers are firmly, evenly printed and well spaced, and the fine crisscrossing lines of the scrollwork borders are sharp and unbroken.

On counterfeit notes, the portrait and picture may merge with the background, the eyes or other features on the portrait may be dull or smudgy, or the face may seem unnaturally white. Numbers may be out of line, poorly spaced, and printed too light or too dark, and the lines in the scrollwork borders may be blurred or broken.

The paper used for genuine notes is of very high quality. The tiny red and blue fibers embedded in the paper of genuine notes may not be visible if the bill is badly worn or dirty; on counterfeit bills, these threads may be imitated by fine red and blue lines printed or drawn on the paper. Counterfeit currency paper may feel different or be whiter than genuine paper.

Rubbing a bill on a piece of paper is not a good test. Ink can be rubbed off genuine as well as counterfeit notes.

If you're not sure whether a note is counterfeit, consult an experienced money handler—a bank teller, for example. If you get a counterfeit bill,

  • Write your initials and the date on the back of the bill so that you can identify it later.

  • Record on a separate sheet of paper all the details about how you got the bill: Who gave it to you? Where and when did you get it?

  • Handle the bill as little as possible to preserve any fingerprints. Put the bill in a protective cover such as an envelope

  • Contact the nearest U.S. Secret Service office or local police. Surrender the bill only to these agencies.

Anyone convicted of passing a counterfeit bill may be fined as much as $5,000 or imprisoned for up to 15 years.