Counterfeit banknotes

One of our key responsibilities as a central bank is to maintain confidence in the currency. We are responsible for providing banknotes that you can use with the confidence that they are genuine.

Overview

Our anti-counterfeiting strategy has five key elements:

  1. Developing and issuing new state-of-the-art counterfeit resilient notes. This was one of the primary reasons for moving from cotton-paper to polymer banknotes.
  2. Working with the cash industry so that only high-quality, authentic notes are issued and recirculated.
  3. An active education programme that works with businesses and the public to help people understand how to identify genuine banknotes.
  4. Providing a framework for cash machine companies and those companies that own or operate ATMs so that they can test and prove that their equipment and processes meets minimum authentication standards.
  5. Working closely with law enforcement agencies to disrupt counterfeiting operations.

How many counterfeit banknotes are in circulation?

The vast majority of counterfeits are discovered before they go back into circulation, when retailers and the banking system are sorting them. A smaller number are detected by the public or retailers who hand them directly to the police, or when the police carry out search warrants. Counterfeits are typically removed from circulation quickly, often after a single use.

In the first half of 2021 typically less than 0.0023% of banknotes were counterfeit, that is less than 1 in 40,000 banknotes. Some 58,000 counterfeit Bank of England banknotes with a nominal face value of £1.5 million were taken out of circulation. At any one time, there is around 4.6 billion genuine banknotes in circulation, with a notional face value of £83 billion.

The figures show the H1 2021 data, along with annual data since 2005. Lower transactional usage of cash and the increased robustness of the polymer designs acted to reduce counterfeiting during 2021.

View the data

What do I do if I get a counterfeit banknote?

Counterfeit banknotes are rare and also worthless. 

We cannot reimburse you for counterfeit banknotes. If you suspect that you have a counterfeit banknote, please take it to your nearest police station. The police should fill out an NCO-1 form and provide you with a receipt and incident number. The suspect notes will be sent to the National Crime Agency and if counterfeit to the Bank of England for further examination.

If you have information about someone making, selling or using counterfeit banknotes, please contact the police or phone Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Counterfeiting directly funds organised crime. It hurts the UK economy by creating losses for businesses, which ultimately affects the cost of things that we buy. It also affects the pocket of anyone who receives a counterfeit note, as they are worthless. If you report counterfeiting to the police, you are helping with investigations and alerting them to a problem in their area. This means that they can take action to protect your community.

Watch our short film on counterfeit prevention:

  • If you are a retailer or business that handles cash, then you could be a target for counterfeiters looking to pass their notes. 

    And, if you aren't routinely checking the notes you receive, the risk of getting caught out by these criminals only increases.  

    Counterfeits make up only a very small fraction of Bank of England banknotes in circulation. But as businesses, you and your staff need to be vigilant against them.

    Counterfeiting directly funds organised crime, and it doesn't just hurt the businesses targeted, it also damages your community. The notes themselves are worthless. If you accept one unknowingly or otherwise, you or your business will be out of pocket and it could impact your customers. 

    Fortunately all Bank of England banknotes have a series of security features built into their design. These features will help you identify whether the notes are genuine. 

    Because these features can be checked quickly, they won't slow you down. The more aware you and your employees are of these security features, and the more of them you check at point-of-sale, the less likely you will be to fall victim to counterfeits. With the right training, you can easily check these security features. So what do you do if you think you've been handed a counterfeit note? You can't ignore it. Knowingly holding on to or passing counterfeit notes is illegal, and it could damage your reputation if one of your customers or suppliers realises you've given them a counterfeit banknote. 

    “I’m sorry, I think this is the counterfeit note”. 

    You should understand your company policy and know what to say to customers. 

    “I'm afraid I'm going to have to take this and ask for another form of payment”. 

    If the note turns out to be genuine, the customer will get their money back. Fill in a counterfeit receipt and send the banknote to the Bank of England, either directly or via your own bank.  

    However if you feel at risk, give the note back to the customer and ask for another form of payment. If you suspect the customer is purposefully trying to pass a counterfeit note, call the police, and if you have kept the note hand it over to them. 

    Confidence comes with experience and good training. 

    The more these checks become routine, the less risk there is of getting caught out.  

    For more information, or to download our free training materials, go to the banknote section on the Bank of England website.

    You work hard, don't let counterfeits be a cost to your business, your customers or your reputation.

This page was last updated 18 October 2021

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