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Counterfeit Money: Am I Going to Jail?

Posted by Law Office of Justin T. Surginer

Can you go to jail for counterfeiting? Yes – or no – depending on the scope and details of your actions.

Counterfeiting, which literally means one thing imitating another, is the term most often used when referring to phony currency and coins, though it also refers to material items like those “fake Gucci” designer purses often sold by street-corner vendors.

Retailers and individuals are defrauded when they are passed counterfeit money or buy unauthorized reproductions of items. And, yes, it is against the law to create or intentionally pass counterfeit cash and merchandise.

Counterfeiting is a federal crime, and investigations will be handled by the U.S. Secret Service. You will definitely do time in prison if convicted of such a crime.

Counterfeiting Laws

Counterfeit MoneyThe laws governing counterfeiting are not limited to currency or material goods. According to Criminal Defense Lawyer, federal law also counts as fraud the recreation of items including:

  • Documents issued by insured credit unions, land banks and the FDIC
  • Bonds, bids, contracts, proposals, public records and affidavits
  • Documents pertaining to imports and the collection of customs duties
  • Federal court documents
  • U.S. postal stamps and meters

A Charge of Counterfeiting

If you are accused of creating counterfeit items, from money to handbags, the investigation will extend into your home, where evidence will be confiscated, including your computers and hard drives, printers and scanners. If found guilty of manufacturing phony goods and currency, you could face a federal prison sentence of up to 20 years in prison and fines reaching to $250,000.

You could also be guilty of a federal crime if you knowingly pass counterfeit money or sell counterfeit goods, even if you did not create the items. Just as in the case of producing unauthorized materials, the penalty for passing phony cash or goods with the intent to defraud – the crime could be categorized as forgery or fraud or a theft-related offense – carries a possible 20-year prison sentence.

What If You Didn’t Know?

Counterfeit money can be difficult to tell from the real thing, and it’s safe to assume that many people unknowingly pass this cash when they receive it as change or get it from another person.

Such people are not necessarily guilty in the eyes of the law, and you may not go to jail. But if you are caught passing phony money, you must have a solid story to tell the court to prove you had no criminal intent. “As with all criminal charges, the prosecutor must prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction,” notes Criminal Defense Lawyer. “In counterfeit currency cases, however, lack of knowledge and intent is perhaps the most commonly raised defense.”

Spotting a Phony Bill

Criminals who make and pass fake money often target small businesses who don’t take the time to examine money in small currencies like fives and tens. Counterfeiters may use well-dressed accomplices to impersonate wealthy shoppers who pass $50s and $100s.

These bills could make their way to you. And if you even suspect a bill is counterfeit, you are prohibited from using it.

You can examine bills to see if they are real or not. Business Know-how lists a few ways:

  • Hold the bill up to a light and look for the holographic image of the president’s face. The holograph should match the printed face exactly.
  • Keep the bill up to the light and check for a thin vertical strip. This is text spelling out the bill’s denomination, and appears only on legitimate money.
  • Hold the bill to an ultraviolet light. “The $5 bill glows blue; the $10 bill glows orange, the $20 bill glows green, the $50 bill glows yellow, and the $100 bill glows red – if they are authentic!,” says Business Know-how.

Next Steps?

If accused of counterfeiting, you will be well-advised to find an experienced, reliable defense attorney. Choose one with experience in this line of defense, and is ready to help you put your best face forward before the judge.

*Image courtesy of Money

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