How to spot a counterfeit note

How to spot a counterfeit note

Possessing counterfeit money carries with it a hefty penalty. Here’s how to spot a fake and report it.

In 2014-15, a reported 33,000 counterfeit Australian $50 banknotes were removed from circulation. As digital printing technology continues to improve, it’s likely that this represents only a fraction of the fake currency floating around our economy today.

With production of counterfeit currency carrying a penalty of up to 14 years jail time under federal legislation, and knowingly possessing it warranting up to 10 years, it’s clear that large scale counterfeiting has a huge potential to undermine public confidence in currency and it can have a big impact on economies both local and national.

Knowing how to identify suspected counterfeit money and what to do if it’s proven fake is worth noting.

How to identify a counterfeit banknote

One good way to determine whether a bill is fake is to compare with a genuine bill. The Reserve Bank of Australia advises that you start by looking for a few identifying features.

1. Is it plastic?

Australian banknotes are printed on plastic. The material is quite distinct, so have a feel to see if your note is comparatively thicker or thinner. When scrunched, a real Australian banknote will spring back into shape.

Note that the ink used for printing is raised; you should be able to feel it with your finger.

2. Coat of arms

When held to the light, a genuine banknote should expose a faint coat of arms.

3. The seven-pointed star

Each side of the banknote should depict a circle with a diamond inside. When held up to the light, these should align to reveal a seven-pointed star.

4. Is the window clear?

Check that the white ink printed on the window is not easily erased. The clear window is an integral feature for each banknote and should be embossed accordingly: a wave for the $10 bill and the value of the note for the $20, $50 and $100 bills.

5. Irregularities

Printing should be sharp. Look for irregularities in definition between notes as well as lines wavering in thickness or colour.

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Fun fact!

In 2002, the names of the icons depicted on our banknotes were added to new bills in a bid to educate the public. This means that some bills will include the names and others will not.

The year a note was printed can be determine by looking at the first two digits of the serial number.

What to do with a counterfeit banknote

If you come into possession of a counterfeit note, you should immediately notify and hand it over to state or federal police. The AFP and RBA have a working agreement for the management of counterfeit currency.

You are advised to:

How to avoid counterfeit currency ending up in your wallet

The cashless economy is fraught with its own security concerns, but where does the greater risk lie?

With digital security increasing and the ever-improving swiftness of the bank when cards are identified as exhibiting fraudulent behaviour, debit and credit cards might be the easiest escape from the risks of counterfeit currency.

Keep a tighter control over your funds by implementing the “chip and pin” system and always opt to insert your card and enter your security pin, rather than using contactless technology. This is one of the many ways you can keep a handle on the potential for fraudulent activity with plastic.

Go cashless and avoid the risk of fake money

Rates last updated March 24th, 2017
Monthly Account Fee Debit Card Access ATM Withdrawal Fee Fee Free Deposit p.m. Details
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St.George Express Freedom Account
A secure SMS authentication is required to get your 'get cash code'.
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Commonwealth Bank Smart Access
Register for Cardless Cash and withdraw up to $500 a day without a card.
Mastercard $0 $2,000 Unlimited free CBA ATM transactions. No monthly service fee if you deposit a minimum of $2,000 per month otherwise $4 monthly fee applies. More

Despite best efforts, counterfeit banknotes are harder to control and once in your possession, by law you cannot be reimbursed for the identified bills.

Shirley Liu

Shirley is's publisher for banking and investments. She has completed a Masters in Commerce (Finance) and is the author of hundreds of articles. She is passionate about helping Aussies make an informed decision, save money and find the best deal for their needs.

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