Although the amount of counterfeit bills in circulation is relatively small, garage sales are a perfect place for scammers to unload these illegal copies, as many hosts don't bother to check the bills for authenticity and will just issue change and finish out the transaction. As a host, you want to protect yourself from the horror stories out there about people losing hundreds of dollars' worth of merchandise due to counterfeit bills; here are some ways you can tell a fake bill from a real one.
The texture of the bill is very important. Money is not actually made from paper, it's made from a type of cloth that is conducive to printing. The "recipe" for the paper and ink real money is made from is kept secret, so counterfeiters have to use makeshift products that end up having an inferior feel to them. Although it's not always easy to feel, real money has slightly raised ink, whereas fake money will feel very flat and even.
Details on a bill are critical. The printing quality of portions where there are supposed to be lots of tiny marks -- such as on President Grant's face on the $50 bill -- will be significantly blurred on a fake bill (that's thanks to the copy machine!). Also, there are colored strands embedded in real paper, which you can see when you hold the bill up to the light.
Watermarks are featured on all the bills; these are visible when you put light behind the bill. Each bill features a different watermark, so find some bills you know are real and figure out what each one shows. Remember, to escape the texture test, some counterfeiters bleach small-denomination bills and then reprint higher denominations on them, but the watermark will never lie!
The use of a counterfeit detecting pen will help you tell if the bill is genuine or not. You can purchase these pens online for $5 or less; they'll last for more than one sale, so the investment will cover probably the next few years at least (if the pen doesn't dry out!). To use a counterfeit detection pen, draw a small mark on the border of a U.S. bill. If the ink appears to be yellow, the bill is good; if the ink turns black, however, you have a counterfeit bill on your hands. If you follow the other tips in this article, however, you may not need to buy a pen, so familiarize yourself with how to tell a real bill from a fake one before you make that purchase.
Have any horror stories about counterfeit bills? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll take you seriously!