Know your Counterfeits

Are you protecting yourself against counterfeit banknotes? The Bank of England advises event organisers to be vigilant this year against fakes.

How to determine counterfeit banknotes

Recent media stories suggest some criminals are targeting festivals and other events with counterfeit banknotes. The nature of outdoor events – large footfall, lots of cash spending and distractions taking peoples’ minds off checking for fakes – provides a perfect environment for counterfeiters to offload fake notes. With new polymer £20 and £50 notes being introduced in 2020, there is likely to be a push by criminals to rid themselves of the counterfeit paper versions this year.

Fortunately there are quick and easy ways to check banknotes and the Bank of England provides a free Banknote Checking Scheme and training materials.

Although counterfeit banknotes represent a very small fraction of the 3.7 billion genuine banknotes in circulation, less than 0.05%, most counterfeiters target businesses so it’s important to be vigilant and check notes received as payment. This is especially the case for the £20 and £50 notes which are still printed on paper. Counterfeits are worthless, so any counterfeit accepted is a direct loss to a business, even before any associated administrative costs or staff time.

Criminals often repeatedly target places where they have successfully passed a counterfeit. There is also a reputational impact from being associated with accepting counterfeit banknotes, even more so if a retailer was to accept a counterfeit and then give it out in change.

To support businesses, the Bank of England has set up a Banknote Checking Scheme. It allows businesses to build and maintain a relationship with the Bank, ensuring they have the most up-to-date information on banknote checking to educate and empower their staff.

Counterfeit banknotes are manufactured by organised criminal gangs and the proceeds used to fund other serious criminal activities. The Scheme recognises the corporate social responsibility (CSR) contribution that supporters make in helping to reduce counterfeit levels and associated proceeds from crime, and by supporting the Bank in maintaining confidence in the currency.

The Scheme is completely free to join and more details can be found online:

Fortunately, there are quick and easy ways to check banknotes. The Bank of England provides a range of free training materials to order or download, including posters and training videos. These are available at: We recommend the following two quick steps to check the paper £20 and £50 notes:

The Bank will be issuing a new £20 polymer note in 2020, featuring the artist JMW Turner. The current paper £20 is the most counterfeited note and so its replacement should see the biggest benefit to retailers in terms of reducing losses from counterfeits. Supporters of the Banknote Checking Scheme will be the first to hear more about the new note. Alternatively, you can sign up to the Bank’s Banknote Bulletin to receive news of important banknote developments at:

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