How to Find Fake Notes

Currency counterfeiting is a crime that continuously poses a threat to a country’s economy and is a source of financial loss to its citizens. Some of the ill effects that counterfeit money has on society are a reduction in the value of real money; an increase in prices (inflation) due to more money getting circulated in the economy – an unauthorised artificial increase in the money supply; a decrease in the acceptability of paper money; and losses, when traders are not reimbursed for counterfeit money detected by banks, even if it is confiscated.

At the same time, in countries where paper money is a small fraction of the total money in circulation, the macroeconomic effects of counterfeiting of currency may not be significant. The microeconomic effects, such as confidence in currency, however, may be large.

Failure to take significant action in combating counterfeiting can lead to uninsurable risk, which has a harmful effect on the reputation and functioning of a country’s central bank. Legislation in South Africa is being examined with a view to effecting improvements. There are, at present, two statutes in South Africa that regulate the counterfeiting of currency. Both Acts provide for punitive measures amounting to imprisonment for a period not exceeding fifteen years.

Current initiatives in South Africa are based on a multi-agency approach to combating counterfeiting. The South African Government’s Departments for Safety and Security and Justice and Constitutional Development, the South African Reserve Bank, the South African Note Company, Interpol, and the South African Mint have established formal relations and meet regularly to combat these crime forms. The formal relationship yielded a strategy as a basis for combating counterfeiting in the country. The strategy establishes joint planning, cooperation, and liaison at all levels, the sharing of information, expertise, and resources, as well as joint consideration of legal, economic, and social issues that have a bearing on counterfeiting in South Africa. There is also recognition that the public can play an important role in combating the circulation of counterfeit currency in the South African economy. The early detection of counterfeit operations is essential to limiting the impact of counterfeit money on the economy. Conditions have been created that make it difficult for counterfeiters to circulate forged notes, including the prompt informing of all stakeholders about new counterfeit notes and coins and the providing information on how to detect counterfeit money.

How to identify counterfeit notes

There are 3 methods for identifying counterfeit notes:

1) Money counting machines

Most money counting machines have built-in counterfeit detection. The level of detection differs from product to product, but common features include; ultraviolet, magnetic thread, and size detection.


South African big 5 series notes (new Mandela notes do not glow under a UV light) have multi-coloured fluorescent markings that can be seen when the note is placed under a UV light. Unfortunately, many of the counterfeit notes that have been circulated recently in South Africa have had ultraviolet markings, and therefore, products that only have UV detection will not register as counterfeit.

Magnetic thread

The note is scanned during the counting process to ensure that there are magnetic properties to the paper. This is one of the most reliable security features for South African currency as it is very difficult for counterfeiters to copy. When looking for a money counting machine, it is highly recommended that you choose a product with the magnetic (MG) function.

2) Desktop ultra violet Light Counterfeit detection

Installing a desktop counterfeit detector at the point of sale can be a cost-effective counterfeit detection method. Beware of relying on UV detectors because they are in no way completely accurate, as many counterfeit notes in South Africa have UV markings, so will appear real under the fluorescent light. Some ultraviolet counterfeit detectors also have a magnetic (MG) identification feature; this is far more reliable and highly recommended as it is difficult for counterfeiters to copy. PLEASE NOTE: THE NEW MANDELA NOTE SERIES DOES NOT GLOW UNDER A UV LIGHT.

3) Manual identification

To view the full security and design features to look out for, view the South African Reserve Bank’s easy-to-use guide.

To view our full article in the FM Essentials Safety & Security October 2012 Newsletter, please click here.