This week's question for the LOPD: How do you spot a counterfeit $20 or $50 bill?

(A Lake Oswego police officer or firefighter answers readers' questions each week in this space. To submit a question, call Editor Gary M. Stein at 503-636-1281 ext. 102 or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

How do you spot a counterfeit $20 or $50 bill?

Local retailers reported a string of incidents in late January in which people tried to pass counterfeit $50 bills, so this is a good and timely question.

There are many security features built into newer currency to help fight counterfeiting. The first security feature is color-shifting ink, which is used in the bill's denomination on the bottom right-hand corner. On a $20 bill, for example, the copper color should shift to green when you hold the bill flatter.

The bills also have raised printing. If you take your fingernail and run it along the edge of the printing, you should feel an unsmooth texture and a small vibration in your fingernail.

You can also check for blurry borders, printing or text. Real bills are extremely detailed and will not be blurry. Look for red and blue threads within the fabric of the bill; these are embedded in the paper. Hold the bill up to the light and look for a watermark — in newer bills, it will be a replica of the face on the bill; in older bills, it may only be an oval spot.

When holding the bill up to the light, look for the security thread. This is a strip that crosses the bill and will have the words "USA" and the bill's denomination imprinted vertically on the bill.

The feel of the bill is also a good indicator. Bills are not actually paper; they are made up of 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen and will have a different feel than paper. Look for micro printing, but don't rely totally on that. Printers have come a long way, and if a counterfeiter is willing to make the investment, this can be replicated closely enough.

These are just a few of the security features in the newer bills.

If you believe you have received or come across a counterfeit bill, you should try and get as much information about the person who gave it to you as possible. This can include a description of the person and anyone else with the person, and a vehicle description if you can get it safely. If you can get a direction of travel when the person leaves, that can be very helpful as well. Do not confront the person. Handle the bill as little as possible and contact your local law enforcement.

Received a suspicious-looking bill? Call our non-emergency number at 503-635-0238 and an officer will respond as quickly as possible.

— Detective Jay Rodgers

Contract Publishing

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