Although the number of counterfeit banknotes is falling, you still need to be aware of how to spot a fake!

Thanks to increasingly sophisticated printing methods, it’s become far easier for forgers to fake bank notes over the years. In fact, back in May, police discovered equipment in Kent which was being used to produce high quality counterfeit £20 notes.

The good news, however, is that the number of fake banknotes in circulation fell by a fifth last year. During 2009, the number of counterfeit Bank of England banknotes taken out of circulation was around 556,000, with a face value of £11.1 million. This compares to an average number of genuine banknotes of over 2.4 billion in the same year.

But despite falling figures, it still pays to be careful. After all, you could still unwittingly be carrying around a fake note in your wallet and, unluckily for you, it’s a criminal offence to hold onto or pass on a counterfeit note. So make sure you read the following guidelines to find out how to spot a dodgy banknote!

Check the paper

Banknotes are printed on special paper so make sure you check how the paper feels. A genuine banknote has a cloth-like feel, while a fake note will feel more like paper.

Raised print

Run your finger across the note and if it’s genuine, you should be able to feel the raised print on areas such as the words ‘Bank of England’ on the front. If it’s a counterfeit, the note is unlikely to have a textured feel to it and will feel flat all over.

Check the metallic thread

A metallic thread is embedded in every banknote. This appears as silver dashes on the back of £5, £10 and £20 notes and on the front of £50 notes. The thread is woven through the paper – not just printed on – so when you hold it up to the light it should appear as a continuous dark line.

Check the watermark

If you hold a genuine note up to the light, you should see an image of the Queen’s portrait. However, if you can still see the watermark when the note is flat and not held up to the light, it’s likely to be a dodgy note.

Security Features



1. Paper quality -Banknotes are printed on special paper with raised lettering in some areas. Fake notes can sometimes feel limp or waxy
2. Print quality – Numbers, letters and colours are sharp and clear, whereas counterfeit notes may appear slightly blurred
3. Holographic strip – Pound symbol and figure 20 alternate when the note is tilted
4. Microlettering – Words printed below the portrait of the Queen are only visible with a magnifying glass
5. Metallic thread – Silver dashes on the back of the note become a continuous dark line when held up to the light
6. A see-through “register” shows a broken pound sign. The symbol becomes whole when held up to the light.
7. The watermark has been moved to a white panel to make it easier to find
Other – Some unpublicised “covert features” are designed to further deter counterfeiters

Check the print quality

The printed lines and colours on genuine notes will be detailed and sharp and free from smudges or blurred edges. So make sure you check the detail carefully. If the quality is poor or messy, you’ve got yourself a fake!

Check the hologram

Each £5, £10 and old-style £20* banknote has a hologram on the foil patch. By tilting the note, the image will alternate between a brightly coloured picture of Britannia and the numerical value of the note.

However, bear in mind that on the new £20 notes, the hologram has been replaced with a holographic strip. So there are a number of foil patches which contain alternating holographic images. One hologram reveals the image of famous economist, Adam Smith, while the others change between a pound sign and the figure 20.

Check under ultra-violet light

This isn’t so handy if you’ve just been given a banknote in a shop, but if you’re really determined to find out whether your note is fake or genuine, put it under ultra-violet light. If it’s the real deal, its value will appear in bright red and green numbers while the background will be dull in contrast.

The new £20 note also has bright red and green flecks randomly spread over the front and back of the note.

Just bear in mind that the £50 note does not have these red and green features.

Use a magnifying glass

Use a magnifying glass to look closely at the lettering beneath the Queen’s portrait. On a genuine note, decorative swirls spell out the value of the note in small letters and numerals.


What to do if you find a fake

In an ideal world, you should check every note you’re given as soon as you receive it. If it’s a fake, don’t accept it. Of course, this isn’t very practical when we’re rushing from shop to shop and it’s likely to be difficult to find the time to examine each note in detail.

However, if, when you get home you have a look through your wallet and discover a fake note, you should take it to the police as soon as possible. You will be given a receipt and the banknote will be sent to the Bank of England to be analysed. Only if the note is genuine, will you be reimbursed.

*The old-style £20 note was withdrawn on 30 June 2010.

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