How to check if your cash is the real thing

Australian banknotes are famously well known for their array of security features but it still doesn’t stop counterfeiters from having a crack at cranking out a few homemade versions.

Only last month, Darwin police had to issue a warning over fraudulent notes after a Darwin business was handed a few scammy $50s.

“The note has a paper texture and the security window has visible defects, having been glued on,” Northern Territory Police said.

“Police are urging everyone to be vigilant of counterfeit money being distributed.”

Sounds a bit amateurish to be honest, but what should you look out for if you believe you have been handed a counterfeit note?

What to look for

Is it plastic? Australian notes are made of plastic and have a distinct feel and particular strength. They are difficult to tear and will bounce back into shape if you give them a scrunch.

Does it have a star? All Australian banknotes have a star printed inside a circle on both sides. If you hold it up to the light the circle and stars should line up.

Is there a coat of arms? While you have the note up to the light, check if there is a faint coat of arms somewhere on the note.

Can you see through it? A clear window on the note is an integral part of Australian currency and as such cannot be rubbed off. It should also have the embossed number of currency it is, so, a $50 should have a 50 embossed in the window.

Can you feel it? The dark print is produced with raised ink, so you should be able to feel its texture.

And for the very keen, you can also check notes under a UV light if you have one lying about. Genuine Australian notes will only fluoresce the serial numbers and a patch matching the value of the note.


The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) also wants to clear up two common myths about Australian banknotes.

Myth No. 1. Banknotes without the printed name below the portrait are counterfeit.

Not true. A banknote without the name of the person below the portrait is not necessarily counterfeit. Printed names were added to Australian banknotes from 2002. This was done to help the public identify the people that our banknotes feature. To determine the year a banknote was produced, look at the first two numerals of the serial number e.g. 99 means the banknote was printed in 1999, while 03 means the banknote was printed in 2003.

Myth No 2. The governor’s signature is always above the secretary to the treasury’s.

Not True. The order of the signatures on Australian banknotes was changed in 2002. Since then, the governor’s signature has been printed above that of the secretary to the treasury  

Not surprisingly, the authorities take a very dull view of people trying to use counterfeit notes.


If, for instance, you fancy yourself a wizard with your printer and decide to knock out a few $50s, the maximum penalty is 14 years, with 10 years for possessing counterfeit money and for possessing instruments used for counterfeiting, also 10 years.

It could be worse. Back in Medieval England, if you were found to be fiddling around with the coinage you could have your hands cut off or be sentenced to death.

If you suspect you have been given a fake banknote you need to hand it in to the state or federal police as soon as you can.

The RBA recommends that before you hand any suspect cash over, handle it as little as possible, store it in an envelope if you can, and make a note of how it came into your possession.

And, of course, you are well within your legal rights to refuse any banknotes you think are a bit iffy.

Have you ever seen any counterfeit money? What were the circumstanes? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: Are we spending less through ‘dirty tricks’?

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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