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Detecting Counterfeit Money at the Cash Register

Sean Trundy

Counterfeit_100_BillThe modern era of counterfeit money production has enabled anyone with a home computer, a scanner and a high-quality color printer to open-up-shop and become a counterfeiter. Easy access to counterfeit-capable technology makes loss prevention and counterfeit bill detection increasingly important for small and large retailers alike.

The bottom line is: counterfeiting can affect your company's bottom line. Your business will likely incur a loss in time, productivity and resources in addition to the forged face value of the worthless counterfeit. The 2014 Lexis-Nexis True Cost of Fraud survey, conducted annually, suggests that the “soft costs” associated with fraud typically equals more than 3-times the face value of the fraud itself.  

Read on to learn about your options and the latest technologies for protecting your business from counterfeit bills.

Visible Inspection

It is difficult to estimate the total dollar amount of counterfeit currency in circulation. In 2013 alone, the U.S. government seized nearly $90 million in counterfeit money domestically. The changing face of counterfeiting as an industry has led to a unique dynamic. With nearly two-thirds of domestically printed counterfeit bills being produced using laser and ink-jet home printer technologies, counterfeiting is now predominantly ahome-based business. This means that the use of counterfeit currency is no longer just a "Big City Crime", affecting only places like New York, Miami and Los Angeles. As we highlighted in a recent blog article, counterfeiting is now a local crime, and the possibility of receiving a counterfeit bill is greater than ever. 

In retail businesses, the first point for detecting a counterfeit bill generally lies with the cashier. A physical inspection of currency may utilize security features embedded in the latest U.S. currency.

  • Watermark: Watermarks are a faint “ghost image” that may be seen by holding a bill up to the light.
  • Color-shifting ink: The lower right-hand numeral on the front of US banknotes ($10 and higher) contains color-shifting ink. As you tilt the bill back and forth, the ink color alternates between two distinct colors.
  • Intaglio printing: Intaglio printing uses intricately carved plates to "imprint" bills with ink-filled ridges. Intaglio printing is extremely difficult to replicate, which makes this security feature effective.
  • Security thread: The security thread is a fine plastic strip woven into the bill. The thread spans top to bottom of bills, and may be seen by backlighting the bill.  Microprinting should also be visible on the strip.

Of the above 4 physical features, only the intaglio printing offers a relatively secure test for authenticity.  Watermarks, color shifting ink and security threads have all been counterfeited with passable facsimiles of these features. In the modern age of digital counterfeiting, would-be fraudsters can often download the files, images and instructions needed to falsify these features on their own counterfeit notes.

Even the intaglio printing can be partially reproduced, if the counterfeiter uses off-set printing.  Although not common domestically, where - as previously mentioned - roughly 2/3 of all counterfeits are produced digitally, foreign counterfeiting operations are far more likely to use off-set printers.  With Peru as the current largest single source of counterfeit currency in the United States, it is actually fairly common to find off-set counterfeits in domestic circulation these days.

Detection Equipment and TechnologiesDownload The Counterfeit Prevention White Paper

In addition to visible security measures embedded on bills, U.S. currency also includes covert security features invisible or indiscernible to the naked eye. Specialized counterfeit detection equipment is needed to view and authenticate these features.

  • Microprinting: Since micro-printing is very difficult to replicate – typically requiring expensive printing equipment -, it is an effective security tool. However, you'll need to consider the customer experience when deciding whether to have your cashiers use magnifying glasses at the cash register.
  • UV inks: In order to see UV ink printed on bills, the bill must be held to a UV light. UV technology is quick, effective and unobtrusive to customers, which makes this detection method popular for businesses of all sizes.  Fraudfighter has sold more than 750,000 units of its industry-leading UV scanner, the UV-16.
  • Infrared viewer: Like UV ink, currency is also printed with infrared ink. Typically, these features are printed in a fashion designed to be “machine read” – patterns of bars and spots that are difficult for a human being to remember.
  • Magnetic ink detector: Iron-infused ink is used in U.S. currency, which may be detected with a magnetic ink detector. When magnetic ink is verified in a bill, the detector beeps or uses light indicators.
  • Watermark lamps: Watermark lamps simply use a bright light to back-light bills to inspect the watermark. Since more counterfeiters are capable of duplicating watermarks, this may not be the best technology to use. 
  • Machine-readable character (MRC) reading devices: MRCs use multiple security technologies for quick and reliable authentication. These are the most effective counterfeit detection devices.

Identifying Your Needs

Ask yourself these questions and then reach out to us to discuss the best solution for your needs.

  • What types of payments do you accept at your transaction locations?
    • Cash, only
    • Cash, credit cards, checks, gift cards, etc.
  • How many checkout locations do you have?
  • Do you sell restricted or controlled products
    • Alcohol, tobacoo, cough syrup, etc?
  • Do you send wire transfers, offer credit, accept bill payments, sell money orders or conduct other "banking" services with your customers

The answers to these qustions will be most important in determining which product(s) is most appropriate to help you prevent counterfeit fraud in your locations. 

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