According to the Bank of England, around one in every five thousand banknotes is a forgery. In 2018, around ten million pounds-worth of fake banknotes were removed from the economy: just a tiny fraction of the £73 billion worth of real banknotes in circulation. What’s more, forging a banknote has become more difficult than ever before, thanks to the introduction of modern plastic-infused notes, and the fact that we’re all using card payments for even small transactions.

With all of that said, it’s worth being vigilant about the notes you accept, particularly if you’re running a business which handles a lot of cash. Let’s run through a few of the methods which we can use to distinguish a fake note from a real one.


If you’re physically handling thousands of pounds a day, then you’ll learn to distinguish what a real note feels like. Fake notes tend to be printed onto actual paper – and now that plastic notes are in circulation, you should be able to spot something amiss by feel alone. On a genuine banknote, the text should sit slightly above the surrounding surface. Run your thumb across the words ‘Bank of England’. If it’s flat, then you’ve got a problem.

Having raised a red flag, you can move onto a closer examination.

Holographic Strips

If you take a look at any banknote, you’ll see a holographic image or two. On the current £20, there’s an image of Adam Smith; on a fiver, you’ll see the words ‘five’ and ‘pounds’ in a little box. Tilt the note, and the image will change.

Metallic Thread

The rear of a twenty-pound note comes with a metal line down the middle of it. This metal is actually threaded through the note, rather than drawn over the top. Consequently, if you hold it up to the light, you’ll see a continuous black line running all the way down.

UV Flourishes

If you hold a banknote under a sufficiently powerful ultraviolet light, you’ll see a range of hidden patterns, including the value of the note. These can be installed just next to where you’re handling your cash. Take a moment to look at what the genuine article looks like.

Banknote Pen

A genuine banknote isn’t made from normal paper. As such, they’re vulnerable to ‘banknote pens’. Scrawl a few lines over the top of a sheet of paper with this, and the iodine solution will soak into the fibres and turn dark. On a genuine banknote, this doesn’t happen.

Print Quality

The Bank of England are capable of printing incredibly fine details, far clearer than even the fanciest home printer. If you take a look at the banknote under a magnifying glass, you’ll be able to make out incredibly intricate details in the artwork – including the swirling patterns on a twenty, which actually indicate the value of the note. You can pick up a suitable magnifying glass from RS Components.