In the first half of 2017, around 237,000 fake banknotes were removed from UK streets: if they were real, these notes would have been worth £4.88 million.  Even though genuine banknotes are getting more sophisticated, we are asking for your help to find those making, buying or selling fake notes.  Fakenotesvictimless

Counterfeiting is not a victimless crime – it affects your community. Use of fake money in the UK has seen retailers, businesses, schools, charities, the elderly and vulnerable conned out of their hard earned cash. 

Christmas is a time when more cash changes hands, especially £20 and £50 notes, and fraudsters take advantage of the festive season by targeting busy shops and those with temporary staff.


Learn more about counterfeiting and banknotes

How do I check if a banknote is genuine?

Checks can be made quickly and easily using the security features on the £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes. Signs to look for include:

Paper banknotes

  • Check the image flip. On the £20, the hologram flips between a £ symbol and the number 20. On the £50, the motion thread flips between a £ symbol and the number 50.
  • Check the watermark. Hold the note up to the light and you will see an image of the Queen’s portrait. On the £20 and £50 notes, a bright £20 or £50 is also visible.
  • Check the feel of the paper and raised print. Banknotes are printed on special paper that gives them their unique feel. By running your finger across the front of the note you can feel raised print in areas such as the words ‘Bank of England’. On the £20 and £50 notes, there is also raised print in the bottom right corner around the number 20 or 50.

On the new polymer £5 and £10 notes

  • Check the see-through window and the portrait of the Queen. The metallic image of the Elizabeth Tower on the £5 note and Winchester Cathedral on the £10 note are gold on the front and silver on the back of the notes.
  • Check the foil patches. The image flips between the words “Five” and “Pounds” on the £5 note and “Ten” and ”Pounds” on the £10 note.
  • Check the polymer and raised print. Polymer is a thin and flexible plastic material.

How are fake banknotes used?

Counterfeiters target vulnerable people, such as the elderly, and businesses and even charity shops. Scams include: attempting to purchase low value items and pocketing the change; passing a fake note within a number of genuine notes; and asking to swap fake notes for a different denomination.

How serious a crime is counterfeiting money?

It is a criminal offence to knowingly use, or be in possession of, fake notes. The maximum sentence under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 is 10 years’ imprisonment.

I work in a shop/bar/club, what should I do if I find a fake note?

If you think you have been given a fake note by a customer:

  • Retain the suspect note without putting staff at risk
  • Give the customer a receipt, explaining that the note will be handed to the police. Explain that suspect notes subsequently discovered to be genuine will be returned.
  • Call the police and hand them the counterfeit note; or take it to a police station later if requested by them. They will send the suspect note to the National Crime Agency (NCA). Fake notes are subsequently sent to the Bank of England for analysis.

If you find a counterfeit note when cashing up: In suspicious circumstances, or if there is evidence linking the customer to the transaction, please contact the police for advice first. Otherwise, follow your company policy and either take it to your bank or send it directly to the Bank of England using their form. Banknotes that are to be given to the police should be bagged and handled by as few people as possible, as they could provide a source of forensic evidence. The Bank of England will issue you with a receipt for any counterfeit banknotes you send them, and you will be reimbursed for any that turn out to be genuine.

I am a retailer, what advice and training materials can I get on how to check banknotes?

The Bank of England has launched a new Banknote Checking Scheme for retailers and businesses. The Scheme is voluntary, free of charge and promotes banknote checking at point of sale through targeted advice and training. For more information visit the Bank of England banknote checking scheme site.

I am a member of the public, what should I do if I receive a fake note?

Call the police, then take it to a police station later if requested by them. They will send the suspect note to the National Crime Agency (NCA). Counterfeit notes are subsequently sent to the Bank of England for analysis. As counterfeit notes have no value you will not be reimbursed if the note you have sent turns out to be fake.

Please note: We are unable to take calls from victims, i.e. members of the public who may have been passed counterfeit notes. We take information from people who have knowledge about those involved in making, buying or selling counterfeit notes.

What should I do if I know that someone is making, buying or selling fake banknotes?

If you have any information on anyone making, selling or buying counterfeit notes, you can tell Crimestoppers anonymously by filling in our Anonymous Online Form or calling free on 0800 555 111.


Why I should care about fake money

Through our work with the National Crime Agency we know that counterfeiting is not a victimless crime. Counterfeit notes are manufactured by organised criminal gangs and the proceeds are used to fund other serious activities. One gang has been sentenced to over three years’ imprisonment for making over £320,000 in fake notes, and in another instance £40,000 in fake notes were found in a property that was also used to produce and supply cannabis.

Here are some of the real life cases that show that counterfeiting is not a victimless crime and highlight why you should be careful:

Youths rip off charity shops with fake £20 notes

Two teenagers went into a Mind charity shop in Wantage within an hour of each other with fake £20 notes. A volunteer at the counter even checked the notes with a special pen to expose forgeries, but they both passed the test.

After the second fake note the shop manager took them to the bank and they were confirmed to be forgeries.

It later came to light that the teenagers had also targeted two other nearby charity shops.

Source: Oxford Mail, January 2017

“We won’t get that money back” Fake £50 used at charity shop

A group of men went into a charity shop in Gloucestershire and bought a DVD box set for £4 with a fake £50 note. The men then went on to use another fake note in a nearby coffee shop.

The charity shop manager said: "We were told by a customer that someone else had a fake note so we checked ours with the detector pen. I took it to the Post Office and they said it was fake but a good copy. That is money that the shop and the charity has lost and we will not get that money back."

Source: The Citizen Gloucester, February 2017

Sellers on Ebay and Paypal lose hundreds through counterfeit notes

In the Money section of the Guardian a reader wrote in to say that they sold something on Gumtree and was paid £300 in cash - which turned out to be counterfeit.

Source: The Guardian, September 2017

What can I do to help? 

Don’t be tempted to get involved with fake banknotes - you could end up with a criminal record.  If you have any information on anyone making, selling or buying fake notes, you can tell Crimestoppers anonymously by filling in our Anonymous Online Form or calling free on 0800 555 111. Telling Crimestoppers about people making, selling or buying fake money gives you peace of mind: we don’t ask for your name or your details, and we can’t find out who you are.

Play your part in helping us stop this crime and don’t let fake notes spoil your Christmas.


Find out more

To find out more about how to check your banknotes visit the Bank of England website, download this guide to learn about the security features on genuine banknotes (or get the Banknote App, a free interactive guide to checking your banknotes on mobile) or view the Bank of England's short films.