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September 01, 2021

How to spot counterfeit money

As if you didn’t have enough to worry about, apparently there’s a new bunch of fake $20 and $100 bills making the rounds.

Would you be able to recognize a counterfeit bill?  I know I couldn’t. But I’ve certainly noticed cashiers paying extra attention to my money, suspiciously tilting and holding bills to the light before placing them in the cash register. 

Here’s what they’re looking for.

First off, Canadian money is printed with magnetic ink on special paper that doesn’t reflect ultraviolet light, while regular paper glows brightly under that UV lamp beneath the counter.

The "Canadians Journey" series notes now in circulation are easily identified by the holographic strip on the left side of the front of the bill, along with several security features that are quickly identified. Click here for interactive Bank of Canada tutorial.

If you tilt the note back and forth you’ll see two maple leafs that will change colour as the bill shifts. Also, there will be small numbers in the background that match the amount of the bill.

Just to right of portrait on the front of each bill you’ll see a watermark version of the likeness and the number that corresponds to the currency amount. 

Each bill has some irregular marks that merge perfectly to form the number of the currency when you hold the bill up to the light.

On the left side of the back of the note, the dashed metallic lines will shift from gold to green as you tilt the bill. Hold the note up to the light and the dashed lines will merge to form a continuous dark line. You’ll also see the letters CAN followed by the correct denomination of the bill.

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...