Counterfeit cash in Canada

Just how likely are you to come across counterfeit bills? The following blog will go over how to recognize them and what to do when you find one.

The situation: You're making a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up milk, and you pull a twenty out of your wallet to pay for it. The cashier spends a minute examining the bill, then hands it back to you and asks you if you have any other way to pay, because they suspect that the bill is fake.

Now what?

For most people, this is going to be a painful experience. You're likely going to be a bit embarrassed and worry that everyone behind you now thinks you’re a criminal. You also might be concerned about your financial loss – will the bank reimburse you if you take the fake bill to a teller? For that matter, should you take the bill to the bank at all? Or should you go to the police? 

If you suspect that you are in possession of counterfeit bills, take them to your local police station. The police will inspect them, and if they are real, you will get them back. The bad news is that if they’re fake, you won't get them back, and you will not be reimbursed. Canada does not have a reimbursement program – that would only encourage more counterfeiting. It’s also a criminal offence to knowingly use or keep counterfeit money, so you can't pass it off to someone else, and you shouldn't keep it in your sock drawer or framed as a conversation piece.

The good news is that the likelihood that you will encounter a fake bill is quite low, and getting lower each year. According to the Currency Counterfeiting Statistics provided by the RCMP, the volume of counterfeit bills has steadily and dramatically decreased in the past 10 years. In 2007, 141,502 counterfeit bills were passed, while in 2016, that number dropped to a mere 17,492 – a whopping 88 per cent decrease. The most counterfeited notes tend to be the 20 and 100 dollar bills.

Feel, look and flip

“Feel, look and flip” is the name of the routine that helps identify the security features of the new polymer bills in Canada. You can feel raised ink in a few places on the bill, including the large number on the bill, the four portraits and the word "Canada." Move the bill around and look at it from various angles – you can see colours changing in some areas, like the metallic symbols and images. Look at the maple leaves. They should appear to be three-dimensional, but if you touch them, they are indeed flat. And finally, flip the bill over and look through the transparent window to see the same image as on the front. 

According to the RCMP, you don't need to memorize all the safety features of a bill. Pick two or three features that you are comfortable with and check those features every time you handle a bill. You only need to look at more features if your first check raises your suspicions.

Keep the conversation going

Have you ever been in possession of a counterfeit bill? What did you do?  Post a comment below.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of CPA Canada.

About the Author

Laura Britton

Laura Britton, CPA is the principal accountant at LG Britton, CPA Professional Corporation.