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The dos and don’ts of counterfeit money – Episode 0: With Justyn Myers

Hey, Episode 0 is finally here! Thanks so much for tuning in and checking us out! Normally I will interview a different bartender every week, but in this episode I’m just at home hanging out with my dog (see photo), and I wanted to briefly introduced myself and the show, and share a story about how I poorly handled a situation with counterfeit money. You can find Episode 0 in the player below or you can subscribe to the You’re 86 Podcast on this page or wherever podcasts are found.

Since I already introduced the show in the previous welcome post, I’ll just dive right into the intricacies of counterfeit currency in this post. What do you do about counterfeit money? Definitely not what I did, listen and read on to find out more.

Counterfeit currency is an unfortunate issue that we sometimes have to deal with in our industry. The United States Secret Service, which was originally formed to combat counterfeiting, reported that more than 73 million counterfeit US dollars were prevented from circulation in 2017 alone. Although maybe not the most common situation to arise at our bars, it’s important to know what we should do if it does. I certainly didn’t know what to do when I found myself in a counterfeit money situation when I was working at a bar called The Interval in San Francisco. I’ll tell you what I did, then what was wrong about it and what to do better next time.

Here’s what happened to me

It was around 5:30 pm on a summer Thursday night. I was in our little prep room in the back of the bar washing glassware or something when my coworker came in and told me there was a customer making her very uncomfortable and asked if I could handle it. Of course I was happy to help her, but wasn’t sure what I was about to get into.

I went out to the front and found an extremely nervous looking, balding, middle-aged man in a fleece vest standing near the POS. I cheerfully asked him how he was doing and what I could get for him. He was so nervous and awkward that he could barely respond, but he managed to order a cup of tea(which cost $4, the second cheapest drink on the menu).

US bills of $5 denominations higher that were printed in the early 1990’s or later will have this security thread. This guy’s $100 did not have it.


He then nervously fumbled through his wallet and produced a $100 bill. I didn’t even need to look at the bill to know it was a fake, it was obvious that was what he was so nervous about. I took the bill from him, confirmed it was a fake by the lack of security strip(see image), opened the cash drawer and told him that I didn’t have change for $100 because it was the beginning of the shift. I gave the bill back to him, he paid with a $5 bill, took his tea to-go and left.


I thought it was over, but then one of our more unique regulars, who was sitting at the bar while this interaction took place, suddenly took way too much interest in the situation and started questioning me about it. When I wouldn’t tell him anything other than, “It’s over, I handled it, I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he decided to get up and tail the guy through the neighborhood, warning other businesses about this man’s alleged scheme. Our regular came back to the bar a couple of hours later and recounted his valiant tale of vigilantism. Fortunately nothing really bad happened, but much of this could have been avoided had I handled the situation better.

What I did right, wrong and what I should have done

I was right to try to get him to leave, as he was already making my coworker feel uncomfortable. Safety was my main concern and it should be your main concern too. No one wants to end up with counterfeit currency, it’s like an expensive hot potato, but it’s not worth putting yourself, your coworkers or your customers at risk over $20 or $100.

Fortunately the guy in my story ended up being pretty harmless. I actually had quite a lot of empathy for him as he seemed to be caught in a bad situation and really didn’t want to be doing it. It could have been worse though, he could have been a dangerous professional, you never know.

Initially, I didn’t treat this man any differently than I would any other customer, even though I was forewarned that something was wrong. In my experience, it’s best to treat everyone like you’re giving them the benefit of the doubt even if you know something is up. Otherwise, you could escalate a situation unnecessarily. Also, sometimes people receive counterfeit money by mistake, even from banks or other businesses. I don’t think they should be treated like criminals for something they didn’t even mean to do. The penalty for forgery is a fine and a 20 year prison sentence.

I shouldn’t have taken the bill because I knew it was going to be counterfeit, the man’s behavior was obvious. Knowingly accepting counterfeit currency and knowingly passing it to anyone other than the police or secret service can get you into a lot of trouble. People have even been arrested for accidentally passing a counterfeit bill.

Although I would have had a good case in my favor, I could have been charged because I gave it back to the customer. He could have made a scene and tried to accuse me of giving him a counterfeit bill. It wouldn’t have been worth the trouble for anyone.

I also drew too much attention to the situation in that our regular took too much interest and decided to follow the guy, which could have caused even more of a scene. I should have been much smoother and more discrete. The whole scenario could have gone much better had I known how to handle counterfeit currency.

What you should do in a counterfeit money situation

First, take a few minutes and learn how to correctly identify counterfeit currency. This interactive website, this downloadable poster and this short video show all the security features for US currency, and here is a great interactive site for the Euro. If you are outside the US or EU, your government should have information on the security features of your currency.

Euro notes have a variety of security features including foil printing and holograms.

If you suspect someone is trying to pass you a counterfeit bill, safely try not to take it if you don’t have too. If you can say, “Oh, sorry I don’t have enough change to break that $100,” or “Oh, sorry, I’ll get in trouble with my manager for accepting those old $100 bills,” go for it.

If you feel it is unsafe to not take the suspected bill, just take it as if it were any other bill, and set it aside. It’s not worth putting yourself or anyone else at risk over $20 or $100. Many business insurance plans cover counterfeit losses, just let the insurance agency handle it.

I should point out, if you end up with a counterfeit bill, you unfortunately lose that money. The last person to discover they have a fake bill is stuck with it. You may be able to file a claim if your business insurance covers counterfeit losses, but otherwise you can’t exchange it. You’re just out of luck and out $20 or $100, but that is unfortunately the cost of doing business sometimes.

Don’t try to engage, question or accuse the person who is passing you the bill. They could make a scene, things could get ugly. It’s also not really a good idea to try and stall them. They also might not even know they have a counterfeit bill if they received it by mistake. Let law enforcement engage with counterfeiters, it’s their job.

Treat the person who is trying to pass you the suspected fake bill as you would any other customer, so you don’t draw attention to yourself or draw the attention of other guests. It’s best to just keep the situation discreet and contained.

If you do receive a counterfeit bill, don’t give it to anyone except a law enforcement or Secret Service officer. Sonja Danburg, Program Manager of The U.S. Currency education program, advises to write your initials and the date received on the light colored margin of the bill and keep the bill separate from other currency. Put it in an envelope or plastic sealable bag if you have one. It is evidence and could potentially help law enforcement track down big time counterfeiters.

Make sure to write down a good description of the incident and the person who passed you the bill. Include: Approximate height, build, clothing and shoes, hair color and style, skin color and complexion, gender, approximate age, date and time, and what happened.

So what’s next?

I hope that was helpful and you have a better understanding of counterfeit currency. Again, the most important thing is safety. It’s not worth getting hurt over $100. Let us know in the comments if you’ve encountered a situation with counterfeit money, and feel free to reach out with any other comments, questions or topics you want to hear about, we would love to hear from you.

That’s it for Episode Zero, we’ve got plenty more in store for you in the coming episodes. Next time we will have our first interview. Make sure to join our mailing list, it will keep you up to date with all the latest episodes and resources we have for you. You can follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook too. Make sure to share us with your friends and colleagues in the industry, because that’s what this is all about—Sharing knowledge and making our industry better and safer for everyone.


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