10 Signs That An Australian Banknote Might Be Forged

Australia's banknotes incorporate a huge number of features that make them difficult to counterfeit, but that doesn't mean criminals don't have a crack at it now and then. Here are the ten most obvious signs that a note might be a fake.

Picture by Stephen Dann

These hints (and the small images) all come straight from the source: the Australian Reserve Bank. If you do encounter a note that you think is a forgery, place it in an envelope (to minimise handling — fingerprints might help trace the source) and give it to a state or federal police officer. If someone gives you a note you think looks dodgy in your change, you're entitled to ask for a different one. Similarly, if it comes from an ATM, return it to a branch of the same bank. Obviously, the more of these signs you encounter, the more suspect the note is.

It feels too thick or too thin. Most forgers use treated paper rather than the polymer Australian banknotes are built from, so it won't feel "right".

It's easily torn. Again because of the paper factor, forged notes are relatively easy to tear. That doesn't apply to legitimate currency (you can cut it with scissors, but I don't advise that unless you're a performance artist with seriously rich parents or other massive sources of funding).

The note stays crumpled when you scrunch it. Fake notes are likely to stay crumpled if you ball them up (that pesky paper base again). Legitimate notes will largely spring back into shape (though this doesn't apply to folded corners, as any regular users of ticket-vending machines will attest).

The clear window should be integrated. The clear window in the note should appear entirely integrated, not stuck in afterwards.

You shouldn't be able to scratch off the white image on the clear window. If you can do this, then the chances are that it's a fake.

There's no coat of arms. If you hold a legitimate banknote up to the light, the Australian coat of arms should be visible.

There's no seven-point star.Another light trick: on both sides of the note, there's a diamond-shaped pattern in a circle. If you hold it up to the light, the images should align perfectly and form a seven-point star.

Dark printing isn't raised. Dark text on notes is printed on notes to be slightly raised; this is much less likely to happen on forgeries.

There's no micro-printing. If you look at a legitimate note with a magnifying glass, you'll be able to see clearly printed words listing the value of the note. These are found near the portraits, except on the $5 note where they are in the top left corner.

It fails the ultraviolet test. If you look at a legitimate note under ultraviolet light, the only areas that should look fluorescent are the serial number and a small area which shows the value of the note. (The one exception is the $10 note, which only has the fluorescent serial number.)

And the myth? Not all Australian notes have the name of the person pictured on them underneath the portrait. While that has been the case since 2002, there are still older notes in circulation which don't.

You can check the year a note was issued from its serial number: the first two digits are the year of issue. If a note has no name and a serial number starting with 98, it can't be declared fake on that basis; if it has no name and a serial number starting with 07, it's a fake.

Reserve Bank (there's also a PDF guide)

Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


    the question is who would be happy to hand in a forged note to the authorities? would we get a real note back? would a bank exchange a forged note for a real one?

      The RBA also has a note by note specific guide, though it mostly echo's what Gus has already said...


      If the alternative is illegally passing false tender, then I'll hand it in thanks.

        So if you found you had a couple hundred dollars worth of forged notes, you would take the moral high ground, knowing that the authorities would not exchange the forgeries for real tender? Get real.

        Your moral crusade to not inconvenience others with the forged tender is so transparent.

          Actually (and I know I'm quite a few days late on this one), I would definitely hand in "a couple hundred dollars".

          If you're stupid enough to think that breaking the law is a good idea because you're worried about not being 'reimbursed' for being honest, then I'm pretty sure you're failing at life.

          The rest of us would probably prefer not to have to deal with a criminal charge.

    Also, it is probably fake if it looks like this: http://i.imgur.com/JVS0x.png

      Aw, I'm going to have to hand my wallet full of these to the next federal officer i see.

      Oh shit. I withdrew $1000 from an ATM and got nothing but these. I'm going to write a few extra zeroes on it and sell it to someone else.

      Say, wanna buy 5 $2000 notes for only $1000?

    On a real note, the edges are printed as well in the same colour as the face of the note. Easier to spot if lined up against several other notes.

    I work for a company that reasonably regularly has people try to pass off forgeries so we have a fairly simple group of tests we do for all notes.

    *run thumbnail over the note, crossing both the opaque section and the join with the clear window (The note shouldn't be smooth but the window should be a seamless part of the note)
    *check for embossed symbol in the clear window (this only applies to higher value notes. there should be a symbol visible under light that you can't feel)
    *twist the edge of the note (tests both spring-back and tearing)
    *Hold to light and check star (the 7 point star should line up perfectly)

    You can run through all these tests (except the star test and twist test) in a couple of seconds while being handed the note.

      What sort of paper is the counterfit notes made from?

    I found a faded $50 note without its window at a parking bay, it doesn't seem to be forged but will the bank exchange it?

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