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.


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 2020 typically less than 0.005% of banknotes were counterfeit, that is less than 1 in 20,000 banknotes. In  2020, around 170,000 counterfeit Bank of England banknotes with a nominal face value of £3.9 million were taken out of circulation. At any one time, there is around 4.2 billion genuine banknotes in circulation, with a notional face value of £80 billion.

The figures show the 2020 data, along with annual data since 2005. The national lockdowns and lower transactional usage of cash acted to reduce counterfeiting during 2020.

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:

This page was last updated 15 June 2021

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