Want an entertaining dinner party activity? Ask people around the table if they know how to tell if the cash in their wallet is counterfeit money or not. At best, many of them will know only the most common features – the watermark, for instance, or the embedded security thread (although they will not realize the strip is meant to be looked at under UV light).
At worst, they will rely on outmoded techniques such as counterfeit-pen tests. Unless they work for the counterfeit-detection unit of the Secret Service, chances are your dinner companions will not know how to reliably spot fake money.
Remarkably, even many store owners do not know the best ways to detect a counterfeit. Meanwhile, fraudsters continually use that ignorance to their advantage, passing fakes in broad daylight.
To help improve the situation, then, we have come up with a list of Ways to Detect a Counterfeit, ranked from lowest (most unreliable) to highest (almost never fails). Let's begin at the bottom.
The notion that a counterfeit detector pen will save you from counterfeit money should be officially retired. The pen is built around a simple premise - a chemical reaction between starch and iodine. This fundamental test was defeated by enterprising counterfeiters years ago. The detector pen “ink” is an iodine solution, which turns a solid black when exposed to starch found in most commercial paper. Starch is a cheap way to whiten materials (there is also starch in your laundry detergent), and the thinking goes that any counterfeits printed on such paper will be immediately found. Unfortunately, there are at least three things wrong with this concept.
Physical Document Inspection - Checking for security features
Although few people know about it, United States currency actually has some very sophisticated security features. A few highlights:
Absent a counterfeit testing device, verifying physical banknote properties is the best way to check for counterfeits. That said, high–quality counterfeits, such as “supernotes” or “washed” notes can still pass many of these tests. The only sure-fire way of catching advanced counterfeits is to use some type of counterfeit detection scanner.
Of course human-based testing methods are prone to human mistakes. For real precision and efficiency you need to use a currency scanner device that aids in testing a banknote. But which one should you get? There are a plethora of different devices out on the market, from watermark lamps and UV-light counterfeit detectors, to the seemingly more high-tech magnetic ink scanners, and culminating in the all-in-one commercial multi-test units that combine various combinations of the methods above. Each machine brings its own method, with unique strengths as well as drawbacks. We will go over each in detail in the coming posts, but a short preview is in order to help you decide on where to focus.
In short, not all counterfeit detectors are created equal, so if you are considering buying a machine to help you out at the cash register, consider what your needs are, who in your company will be using it, and what is the best for your needs.