Counterfeits and cash-handling: what you need to know

If you’re a victim of counterfeiting, you might expect to be recoup the losses—but that’s not how it works. Victims aren’t compensated, so it pays to verify your bills.

With each new series of banknotes comes ever more sophisticated security features – but they’re only effective if you use them. Here are some of the security features of the latest series.

Canadian currency

  • TOUCH the large number, the shoulders of the large portrait, and the words ‘Bank of Canada’/’Banque du Canada’ on the front of the bill. You should find they are raised to the touch.
  • TILT the top of the bill towards you and you should see sharp colour changes in the metallic building in the large transparent window.
  • LOOK at the metallic portrait in the large window – it should match the large portrait on the front of the bill.
  • LOOK at the numbers in and around the large window; they should match the value of the note and some will appear in reverse.
  • LOOK at the frosted maple leaf window and check for the transparent outline.
  • Note: the $20 bill is the most widely used and counterfeited banknote

The Canada 150 commemorative $10 bill has some additional security features:

  • Raised ink on the large number, four portraits, the word “Canada”, the vertical landscape panels and the text “Canada 1867-2017.”
  • Colour-shifting ink on the checkered pattern in the arch.
  • The large window containing metallic symbols and images should be transparent.
  • Sharp colour-changes in the metallic elements (coat of arms, Canadian flag, owl).
  • The 3-D maple leaves appear to be raised but are actually flat. 

The first vertical bill, featuring Viola Desmond, also has additional security features:

  • Raised ink on the portrait, the word “Canada”, and the large number at the bottom
  • Colour-shifting ink on the eagle feather
  • The large maple leaf appears to be raised, but feel it to confirm the surface is actually flat
  • The transparent maple leaf is clear and feels slightly raised
  • In the large window, look for sharp colour changes in the metallic elements. Turn the note over to see the library ceiling and maple leaves in the same colours on the other side. 
  • There are three maple leaves above the portrait; the gold to green colour-shift of the eagle can be seen through two and the largest leaf is a clear window

For a complete list of security features for polymer bills and other bank note series, visit the Bank of Canada website. The Bank of Canada also has educational tools available for download.

U.S. currency

  • TOUCH the surface and you should feel raised printing. The Federal Reserve paper is actually one-fourth linen and three-fourths cotton.
  • TILT the bill and you should see a watermark from both sides of the note. A security thread is also visible from both sides of the note under ultra-violet light. The numeral on the bottom right of the portrait side of the note has colour-shifting ink. 
  • LOOK for the serial numbers – a unique combination of 11 numbers and letters that appear twice on the front of the note. A green seal to the right of the portrait represents the Department of the Treasury.

For a complete list of security features on U.S. bank notes, please visit the U.S. Currency Education program

On top of these security features to look for, you and your employees should practice good cash-handling habits:

  • Leave currency on the cash register ledge or other secure area visible to the customer until the transaction is complete in order to avoid disputes over the amount being paid.
  • Count change back to the customer to avoid mistakes.
  • Make sure the cash or cheque from the transaction is placed in the cash drawer or other secure container before handling the next transaction.
  • Don’t make change for someone who is not making a purchase.
  • Purchase a counterfeit bill detector and use it.
  • Check for the security features mentioned above.
  • Create a company policy on the acceptance of non-Canadian currency and post in a prominent place. Include the exchange rate that will be used.
  • Have a company policy on rounding cash transactions due to the elimination of the penny and post in a prominent place.
  • It is against the law to knowingly use a counterfeit bill or to keep one without a lawful reason. If you suspect a bill is counterfeit:
    • Politely explain your concerns to the customer and request another bill
    • Advise the customer to check the note with the local police
    • Notify the local police of a possible attempt to pass counterfeit money.
    • Avoid putting yourself and your employees at risk.
    • Be courteous to the customer; they may be an innocent victim, unaware the bill is suspicious.

Note: All suspected counterfeit bank notes (U.S. and Canadian) must be turned over to local police.