how to handle counterfeit bills from a customer perspective

How To Handle Counterfeit Bills From a Customer Perspective

how to handle counterfeit bills from a customer service perspective

As a business owner, your objectives are twofold: increase profits & build and maintain healthy customer relationships. From the moment a customer walks into your retail store, you are expected to create a welcoming environment where they feel comfortable.

Sometimes, however, there are situations that will test those boundaries. One of those is when a customer or client tries to pay with a suspected counterfeit bill. If you work the register regularly and are not used to dealing with uncomfortable situations such as these, we’ve put together a guide on what you need to do when you suspect your customer is trying to pay with counterfeit money.

First Things First: Have Counterfeit Detection Technology On Hand

have counterfeit detection technology on hand

Being preventive and proactive is the first step in protecting your profit margins. While feeling around the edges and holding a bill up to the light might catch a poorly made counterfeit every now and then, you’ll need to step up your detection tech in order to catch those with discrepancies invisible to the naked eye.

While a counterfeit pen might serve as the economical short-term choice, keep in mind that counterfeit pens are not always reliable and are limited in their scope. Invest in a counterfeit money detector machine that detects counterfeits with multiple detection methods such as infrared, ultraviolet, watermark and more. The more accurate the analysis, the more decisive you can be in your handling of the situation with your customer.

Don’t Make Any Assumptions & Keep Calm

don't make any assumptions and keep calm

If you receive a counterfeit bill, the worst thing you can do is assume there is a motive. A customer could be unknowingly paying with a counterfeit bill received at another retail store or even a financial institution such as a bank.

Body language might be 9/10th of communication but don’t look at lack of eye contact or increased aggravation as a sign that someone is knowingly trying to defraud you.Handling a testy situation with a customer is like sitting on a powder keg and you don’t want to do anything that will exacerbate the issue. Don’t make the person feel like a criminal that is knowingly trying to commit fraud as this could cause shame and embarrassment to the customer, especially if there is a long line or other customers around.

What you want to do is step the customer over quietly to the side and explain that the bill that you’ve found is a suspected counterfeit and you cannot accept it. The next steps are outlined by the US Department of Treasury.

Follow Proper Protocol

us department of treasury seal

The U.S. Department of Treasury advises that, if you received counterfeit currency bills, contact your local police department or your local US secret service office.

Here are their guidelines, taken from their website:

For your personal safety. . . PLEASE:

  • Do not put yourself in danger.
  • Do not return the bill to the passer.
  • Delay the passer with some excuse, if possible.
  • Observe the passer's description - and their companions' descriptions - and write down their vehicle license plate numbers if you can.
  • Write your initials and date in the white border area of the suspected counterfeit note.
  • DO NOT handle the counterfeit note. Place it inside a protective cover, a plastic bag, or envelope to protect it until you place it in the hands of an IDENTIFIED Secret Service Agent.
  • Surrender the note or coin ONLY to a properly identified police officer or a Secret Service Special Agent, or mail it to your nearest U.S. Secret Service field office.

Of course, if one of your employees detects and confirms the counterfeit after the transaction, use video surveillance or any contact information given to give a profile to the police.

It might seem like overkill to contact the local authorities over a counterfeit $20 bill, but if you’re the employee, you put your job at risk for missing on fake bills. If you’re a business owner, you’re taking a loss and potentially putting your business’ reputation on the line if you give a counterfeit bill back from the register.

At your discretion, you can also choose to just not accept the counterfeit bill and end the transaction there to avoid any escalation. But whatever you decide, stay firm in your decision and don’t let emotions take over.


Hi Margie,

First off, we apologize for the experience you had to go through! Sounds unpleasant, to say the least.

We can’t speak for all business owners, but we don’t believe this is a trending scam or anything malicious. Ultimately, the manager could’ve realized his mistake after the fact and not wanted any problems.

Conversely, how did the manager decide it was a counterfeit bill? Because if he was just eyeballing it or feeling its edges, this highlights the importance of having adequate counterfeit detection technology on hand even more so (as mentioned in our article).

Thanks for the comment!


David Vargas

I just tried to buy something and the cashier and manager said the ten was counterfeit. They claimed by law they couldn’t return the bill to me so I could show the bank that gave it to me. They were very loud so others could hear. They finally gave it back and I left. I looked at it up to the lamp and saw the water mark they claimed wasn’t there and called another store who checked it for me and showed me on that bill exactly why it was legitimate and not counterfeit. I went to another store that had what I wanted since the second didn’t. They also checked it and took it. I called the first store and told them it checked out and that manager said to bring it back and he’d accept it for my groceries whether it was good or not. What?! I’m wondering if they sometimes claim a bill is bad and that by law they can’t return it so they can pocket it. Especially since you said above that they can give it back at their discretion. Is this happening as a scam by business owners?

Margie Sue

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