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How to spot fake money: Police offer tips on counterfeit banknotes

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Can you tell the difference between a real banknote and a counterfeit? Police say fakes have been circulating recently and are offering tips to discern the difference between forgeries and fortunes.

Police are asking retailers and the public to inform themselves about counterfeit banknotes after “a number” of fakes were reported to be circulating the country throughout the year.

Fakes easily failed the “look, feel, tilt” test, senior police document examiner Jessica Owen said.

Can you tell which one is the fake banknote? Find the answer at the bottom of this article. Photo / NZ Police
Can you tell which one is the fake banknote? Find the answer at the bottom of this article. Photo / NZ Police

“Our advice to cash handlers is to look at the other security features on the note,” she said.

Here’s how

Owen said if the banknote has a bird at the lower left front, tilt the note back and forth.

“A rolling bar of colour will move up and down the bird as the banknote is tilted. You can also hold it up to a light and see a fern in the centre of the bird.”

The oval window on older notes is also a giveaway, she said.

Counterfeit $50 notes were handed over at the Bottle-O in Sunset Rd, Rotorua, in May this year. Photo / Andrew Warner
Counterfeit $50 notes were handed over at the Bottle-O in Sunset Rd, Rotorua, in May this year. Photo / Andrew Warner

Police are concerned about the “steady” increase of counterfeit notes circulating in the country over the past two years. Photo / Andrew Warner
Police are concerned about the “steady” increase of counterfeit notes circulating in the country over the past two years. Photo / Andrew Warner

“The older style of banknote has a small oval window at the front right. Holding it up to a light will show a watermark of Queen [Elizabeth] to the left of this oval window.”

And for those with a UV torch or blacklight at their disposal, Owen said

both styles of genuine banknote have a patch showing the denomination that will glow, located on the front left of the note.

Seven years jail for possessing fake notes, 10 years for using one, police warn

Police are concerned about the “steady” increase of counterfeit notes circulating in the country over the past two years.

Some fakes were handed into police from the Reserve Bank, which detected the counterfeits in the national cash handling system, Owen said.

Police have offered tips on how to spot counterfeit banknotes. Photo / New Zealand Police
Police have offered tips on how to spot counterfeit banknotes. Photo / New Zealand Police

The number of fakes detected by the Reserve Bank was twice that reported directly to police, she said.

“We know that fake notes are a costly headache for retailers. Checking for the security features, together with the look-feel test, will help prevent these losses,” she said.

People who come across counterfeit notes should report it to police as soon as possible.

Anyone who discovers counterfeit notes in circulation is asked to report it to police as soon as possible. Photo / New Zealand Police
Anyone who discovers counterfeit notes in circulation is asked to report it to police as soon as possible. Photo / New Zealand Police

Possessing a fake note can result in up to seven years of jail time. Using one can result in a 10-year sentence.

The Reserve Bank has an interactive website which displays some of the security features on the “series seven” notes, the newest circulating the country.

Which one was fake? For those following along, the counterfeit note in the photograph captioned “can you tell which one is fake?” was the one at the top,

Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022.



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