What are the penalties for using counterfeit money?

The penalties for using counterfeit money are fines of $15,000 or more and 15 years in prison. Using or manufacturing counterfeit bills is considered criminal fraud, and even accidental or unintentional use of counterfeit cash is illegal. Penalties for unknowingly using counterfeit money vary by state but typically involve imprisonment and fines of $1,000 or more.

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Laura Adams is one of the nation’s leading finance, insurance, and small business authorities. As an award-winning author, spokesperson, and host of the top-rated Money Girl podcast since 2008, millions of readers, listeners, and loyal fans benefit from her practical advice. Laura is a trusted source for national media who frequently seek her practical advice on various finance topics for TV,...

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UPDATED: Mar 30, 2021

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Using or manufacturing counterfeit money is a violation of the United States Code and can be considered criminal fraud. Counterfeiting of currency is not a minor offense, but is actually considered a federal felony handled by the U.S. Secret Service Office.

If you get caught counterfeiting, the punishment can be harsh and the penalties severe.  As you probably, it is easy for people to print counterfeit bills. However, there are more sophisticated ways of counterfeiting such as bleaching out authentic bills and printing fake bills onto the bleached paper.

If it is found that a person intentionally created or used counterfeit money to purchase goods in the United States, the penalties for using counterfeit money are fines up to $15,000 (or more in very significant cases) and 15 years in prison.

What constitutes intentional fraud?

Manufacturing or knowingly using counterfeit currency in the United States is a felony offense and is taken very seriously. The issue is addressed at a federal level and handled by the Secret Service (the government agencies were originally created for this very purpose).

If you are suspected of producing fake money, the Secret Service is likely to confiscate any materials or equipment thought to be used in the process, including computers, hard drives, printers, scanners, etc.

The reason the penalties can be so severe is that the creation and distribution of counterfeit money can have a detrimental impact on the whole of society.

Counterfeit bills can devalue real money, increase prices due to inflation, or increase prices of commodities. These are all consequences that can trickle down to every American and abroad.

What happens if you unintentionally use counterfeit money?

Using counterfeit money, even unknowingly, is illegal. But, a court will only charge someone with fraud if it is proven that the individual consciously tried to pass fake money off as real currency.

It is important to report any counterfeit or fake bills that come into your possession to the police or your bank. Otherwise, you are keeping the bill in circulation, which can have a negative impact (as discussed above). Or you may end up losing the value of what you thought was your money. You will not be returned the value for purchases or when depositing into your bank or ATM.

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How to spot counterfeit money?

Retailers need to know how to spot fake cash to help reduce losses to counterfeit money and reduce the chances of a business suffering loss of thousands of dollars. There are many ways to realize if a bill is authentic or counterfeit.

Although UV lamps for counterfeit detection and counterfeit money pens are the most popular, the physical characteristics of the banknote as intentional security measures can help people recognize authentic money (such as ink, watermarks, security thread with microprinting, blurry borders, and text).

Counterfeit currency differs from the authentic currency in a variety of ways so if you familiarize yourself with the differences, you will know how to spot counterfeit bills. Make sure to examine the printing material and paper quality of the bills. Genuine currency paper has tiny red and blue fibers embedded throughout. The paper features are very important – the banknote paper is made from cotton pulp for better durability. Looking at a bill through a light will also reveal a thin vertical strip containing text that spells out the bill’s denominations.

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