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Cash may be the classic currency used to buy and sell goods and services, but it is susceptible to the possibility of counterfeit bills circulating in the monetary system. If you ever find yourself with a counterfeit bill in your hands, you not only stand to be scammed out of money owed to you, but you could even find yourself in some trouble if you spend it. 

For this reason, it’s important to understand how to spot counterfeit money. Be sure to take some time to learn how to ensure your cash is authentic.

Importance Of Spotting Counterfeit Money

There are a few important reasons why you should know how to identify counterfeit currency:

  • Protect yourself from financial loss. By accepting cash that is not authentic, you’re essentially being robbed. Understanding how to identify counterfeit cash can help protect you financially from unnecessary losses. 
  • Protect yourself from legal consequences. Not only is it illegal to use counterfeit money, but it’s also a criminal offence in Canada to knowingly keep counterfeit money. Even though you may not have realized that you accepted counterfeit cash, you could wind up in a situation that requires you to defend yourself if you’re found to have or inadvertently used counterfeit money.
  • Protect public confidence. Not only does using or retaining counterfeit money cause a financial loss to whoever is involved, it can also significantly weaken public confidence in Canadian currency. And once that’s lost, it’s difficult to get back. 

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Quick Ways To Spot Fake Canadian Money

To protect yourself and others from counterfeit money, it’s helpful to understand how to spot it. Here are some quick ways to identify fake bills:

  • Run your fingers over it. The polymer paper of the bill should feel smooth like plastic, while certain features should feel like raised ink, such as the large numerical value and words “Bank of Canada”/”Banque du Canada”.
  • Look for specific features. Certain features should be identifiable, such as the repeating numbers that match the monetary value of the bill, a unique serial number that is unlike any other bill, or the row of maple leaves along the large transparent window’s edge.
  • Tilt it. When you look at the bill from different angles rather than just straight-on, the metallic portrait and building illustration in the large transparent window should change colour. 

Other Ways To Spot Fake Canadian Money

To get a more detailed sense of what legitimate Canadian bills should look like, consider the following:

Textured Ink

Legitimate Canadian cash has certain areas that feature raised ink, including the large numerical value of the bill, and the phrases “Bank of Canada ” and “Banque du Canada ” on the front. You can check by running your fingers gently over the bill. If you don’t feel the raised ink anywhere, the bill could be a fake. 

Also, cash is printed on specialized polymer paper that’s smooth to the touch, similar to plastic. Keep in mind, however, that this type of plastic cash was recently introduced in 2011, so older paper cash could still be circulating.

Small Frosted Maple Leaf

Look for a small frosted maple leaf over the large numerical value of the bill with a transparent outline. This is yet another difficult trait to copy, so it’s a great way to help spot a fake bill. 

Serial Number

Every Canadian bill features a unique serial number, so there should be no duplicate numbers on different bills. 

Large Transparent Window

There are a few things to notice about the large transparent window:

  • Row of maple leaves around the big transparent window, which should intersect into the transparent window.
  • Repetition of numbers that correspond with the value of the bill near the word CANADA.
  • Image of a building near the bottom edge, which changes colour when the bill is tilted. 
  • Metallic portrait/hologram, which should be identical to the larger portrait on the front.

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What Should You Do If You Think The Money Is Counterfeit?

If you suspect that you may be dealing with counterfeit money, there are steps you should take to make sure you’re safe and acting within the law, including the following: 

  • Decline the bill based on your suspicion that it may be a counterfeit 
  • Request another bill 
  • Recommend that local law enforcement be called to inspect the bill
  • Speak with a local police officer to let them know that someone may be attempting to pass off counterfeit bills

Keep in mind that the person passing off the bill may not realize that it is a counterfeit. As such, don’t assume that they are willingly participating in illegal activity. Instead, give the person the benefit of the doubt and allow the police to handle the situation.

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What Are Altered Bills?

An altered bill is one that may have once been legal tender, but has been altered in some way. The bill is an illegal bank note that is authentic and printed legitimately and lawfully signed by a bank officer, but its denomination or other part of the bill has been tampered with and changed in some way.

As such, an altered bill is not actually a counterfeit, as it was once printed legally and was lawfully part of circulation, but has been doctored.

Counterfeit Money FAQs

Is it better to go cashless?

To avoid the potential issue of dealing with counterfeit money, it may be worth considering avoiding cash altogether. This will also help avoid being the target of theft and can help reduce the incidence of money laundering. But there are also drawbacks of going completely cashless, such as exposing your personal information to a potential data breach, leaving you with no alternative source of money.

If I get a counterfeit bill, can I exchange it for a real one at a bank?

No, the counterfeit bill will likely be confiscated and you won’t be able to exchange it for a legitimate bill. Since the fraudulent bill is worthless, your bank won’t give you any money in exchange for it.

Should I report counterfeit money to the police?

Yes, the first thing you should do is inform law enforcement of a counterfeit bill.

Final Thoughts

Knowing how to spot counterfeit money will not only help you avoid getting scammed, but it can also help you avoid getting caught up in illegal activity, albeit unknowingly. If you do come across a bill that you believe is counterfeit, be sure to notify the local police.

Lisa Rennie avatar on Loans Canada
Lisa Rennie

Lisa has been working as a personal finance writer for more than a decade, creating unique content that helps to educate Canadian consumers in the realms of real estate, mortgages, investing and financial health. For years, she held her real estate license in Toronto, Ontario before giving it up to pursue writing within this realm and related niches. Lisa is very serious about smart money management and helping others do the same.

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