Is your banknote fake? How to spot counterfeit paper and polymer notes

Is your banknote fake? How to spot counterfeit paper and polymer notes

There are simple ways to tell whether a paper or polymer banknote is real or fake. We run through the things to look out for on £10, £20 and £50 notes.

lovemoney staff

Rights, Scams and Politics

lovemoney staff
Updated on 4 March 2020

1. Spotting a fake paper or polymer note

Polymer £5 and £10 notes have completely replaced paper notes since 2018, while this year has seen the release of polymer £20 notes into circulation.

All notes will be polymer by the end of 2021, when the Bank of England expects to have issued a £50 polymer note.

But with paper notes still in circulation and polymer notes having additional safety features to make them harder to counterfeit, what should you be looking out for to spot if your money is fake?

First, let's look at how to spot a fake paper banknote. If you're specifically interested in spotting fake plastic notes, scroll straight to point eight.

These are printed on a special material, 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 standard paper.

£50 banknote (Image: Bank of England)

2. Raised print

Run your finger across the paper 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.

3. Check the metallic thread

A metallic thread is embedded in every paper banknote.

This appears as silver dashes on the back of paper £20 and £50 notes (see more information on spotting fake paper £20 notes on this Bank of England page).

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.

This appears as bright green dashes on the front of £50 notes.

Each dash is actually a window which contains images of the '£' symbol and the number '50'. When the note is tilted from side to side, the images move up and down.

When the note is tilted up and down, the images move from side to side and the number '50' and '£' symbol swap places.

4. 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.

5. 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!

6. 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 paper £20 and £50 notes also have bright red and green flecks randomly spread over the front and back of the note.

7. 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.

8. How to spot a fake polymer £5, £10 and £20 banknote

Polymer £5 banknote (Image: Bank of England)

Spotting a fake fiver

In 2016, the first polymer notes began hitting our streets – much to the delight of collectors

The plastic notes are designed to be harder to counterfeit, although that hasn't stopped criminals from trying. 

Below are some of the best ways to check whether your £5 Winston Churchill banknote is genuine:

  • Check the see-through window and the portrait of the Queen;
  • Look at the Elizabeth tower to check it is gold on the front of the note and silver on the back;
  • Check the foil patches.

To learn more about spotting fake fivers, read our comprehensive guide to spotting fake £5 polymer notes.

Spotting a fake plastic £10 note

As for the Jane Austen £10 banknote, look out for these signs:

  • There is a large see-through window on the note. At the side of this window, there should be a coloured quill that changes from purple to orange when you tilt the note;
  • On the front of the note, ensure you can feel raised print on the words ‘Bank of England’ and number 10 in the corner;
  • Flip the note over. On the back, there should be a book-shaped copper foil patch featuring the letters 'JA'.

Spotting a fake new £20 note

The new £20 banknotes feature painter JMW Turner and have these security details:

  • There is an ultra-violet '20' which will appear in bright red and green on the front of the note;
  • A purple foil patch containing the letter 'T' on the back;
  • A portrait of the Queen is printed on a window;
  • Above this, there is also a silver foil patch containing a 3D image of the coronation crown.

New £20 banknote (Image: Bank of England)

9. 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 clearly a fake or you have concerns, don’t accept it. Either ask for a different note or for your money back.

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, especially with fellow customers tutting behind you!

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. If it is fake that's the last you'll see of it: only genuine notes will be returned.

If you happen to have information on anyone making, selling or buying counterfeit notes, you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 to stop others losing out.

Have you ever been given a fake banknote? Did you spot it in time? Let us know in the comments section below

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