Counterfeit money or counterfeit cash is false currency meant to imitate real currency by whole fabrication or by altering real bills or coins. Modern U.S. currency has evolved to make counterfeiting a much more involved process than in the past. Holograms, color-shifting ink, security threads, embedded watermarks, microprinting and susceptibility to ultraviolet light are just some of the high-tech measures the federal government uses to hamper the efforts of counterfeiters.
While not as prevalent in terms of hard currency with fraud having shifted to online marketplaces more frequently, counterfeit cash remains a serious problem with serious penalties attached.
Counterfeiting money is such a serious offense that the United States Secret Service was created, initially, to address the problem of counterfeiters. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the federal government takes charges related to counterfeit currency very seriously.
Trading in counterfeit money is a federal felony. According to the U.S. Code (Title 18, Section 473) the punishment for doing so is a sentence of up to 20 years as well as a fine of up to $250,000.
This is just one reason to ensure you check all money you are handling to prevent potentially passing along a forged bill. Despite the fact that ignorance may be a strong defense in cases where such a transaction is truly accidental, the risk of an alternative outcome is still high.
If you suspect you are in possession of a counterfeit bill, be sure to check it thoroughly and contact authorities.
You can face charges for accidentally paying with counterfeit money. Being convicted of these charges is a different story entirely.
Criminal intent must be proven in order to secure a conviction for the crime of counterfeiting currency, or of conducting business by using counterfeit money. If there is no substantial evidence such as a pattern of trafficking in counterfeit currency or goods or a previous criminal record involving fraud to support the prosecution, it is unlikely you will be found guilty.
That being said, if you act suspiciously during the transaction in which you paid in counterfeit currency, for example, by wearing a disguise, adopting an accent or affectation of speech or behaving erratically more generally, this evidence could be used against you by the prosecution in a court of law. The argument goes, if you were unaware of the illegitimacy of the bill you were trying to pass, why were you behaving so strangely, or out of the ordinary?
However, if you are clearly or undoubtedly ignorant as to the legitimacy of the currency you were trading in, a lack of intent alone may prevent a conviction.
If you are found guilty of dealing in counterfeit money, you may face a federal felony conviction with a very stiff penalty. However, those found guilty of producing (manufacturing, forging or altering) counterfeit bills are equally at fault according to the law.
Federal law specifies that if you create the forged currency, you are also guilty of a federal felony. The punishment for creating counterfeit money can be up to 20 years imprisonment in addition to a fine of up to $250,000.
The law doesn’t stop with standard fiat currency such as minted bills and coins, either. Under Sections 485-489 of the U.S. Code, counterfeiters looking to make a profit by passing off fake gold and silver bars or coins can face between 5 and 15 years imprisonment.
Contracts, deeds, official seals and signatures, and even postage stamps are also protected under Title 18 of the U.S. Code. For example, if you are found guilty of forging or altering federal postage stamps, you could face a penalty of up to five years imprisonment in addition to monetary fines.
Being accused of counterfeiting money is a serious offense that should not be taken lightly. An experienced counterfeit money attorney can help you:
In some cases, a counterfeit money lawyer can even help you prove your innocence or at least reduce your criminal sentence. If you are accused of counterfeiting money or using counterfeit money, don’t take your chances.
Whether you have been wrongfully accused of counterfeiting money, or you have consciously used counterfeited bills in an act of poor judgment, you will need the assistance of a well-versed counterfeit money attorney. The right lawyer can demonstrate an understanding of federal counterfeiting law and can help you understand these laws, too.
An experienced attorney will also gather the legal details of your case, offer legal counsel, build a solid defense, and protect your rights as a citizen in federal court and explain your rights and expectations in any case involving counterfeiting money.