How to spot a dodgy banknote

The new plastic – or polymer - banknotes are a big advance on the old style paper notes. A skilled and dishonest printer might be able to produce a counterfeit paper banknote that is convincing enough especially when lighting is poor.

Making fake plastic notes is much harder.

That’s just one of the reasons why paper banknotes are being phased out. Although as the Bank of England explains the new polymer notes have been developed to make life harder for counterfeiters, they will last around two and a half times as long as their paper equivalents and they’re safer and cleaner, too.

But remember, although polymer banknotes are a lot harder to fake, it is not impossible. That’s why it is important to be able to spot a fake note in your change - here’s some tips from the experts on how to identify them.

Check the size

The first check is to look at the size of your banknote. The new notes are all around 15% smaller than the previous paper notes but will retain the traditional look of the existing notes. The higher the value, the larger the banknote should be.

For example, the £5 polymer note should be 125mm by 65mm, the £10 note should be 132mm by 69mm and the £20 will be 139mm by 73mm.

Check the feel

You can tell a lot from the feel of your note. The new notes have been designed to make things easier for people with visual problems, so you can follow the cues provided for them

The polymer should feel thin and flexible, and every note should have the same surface quality. Too smooth or too rough? Be suspicious.

Check that the words ‘Bank of England’ feel raised.

Check the security features

There are five security features on the polymer notes that you can use to ensure that you have been given the real thing.

All the new plastic notes have holograms, which are very hard to reproduce without sophisticated equipment. These should have words that correspond to their value. These words will change when you tilt the note side to side in the light.

So the words will switch between ‘Five’ and ‘Pounds’ for the polymer £5, while the £10 banknote will change between ‘Ten’ and ‘Pounds’ and so on. No hologram? It’s not a real note!

Each banknote also has a see-through window with a metallic image. Both the £5 and £10 polymer notes have gold foil on the front of the note within this part, and silver on the back.

The £20 note has a blue and gold foil on the front of the note for the metallic image and silver on the back.

The Queen’s portrait will be printed inside the see-through window area on all the new banknotes. The words ‘Bank of England’ will also be printed twice.

Your next check is the metallic foil patch that should be present on each note.

  • On the £5 note, this is a green foil patch — it is circular and spells ‘BLENHEIM’ to commemorate where Churchill was born.
  • The £10 note has a copper foil patch, and this is shaped as a book and should contain the letters ‘JA’ in tribute to Jane Austen.
  • The £20 note has a purple foil patch shaped in a circle with a ‘T’ at its centre, to represent JMW Turner.

The old paper £10 and £5 banknotes have already been withdrawn, and £20 and £50 notes will be history from September 30. You need to spend your share of the 775 million paper notes that are still in circulation before the deadline.

Fortunately, paper or polymer, spending notes is never a problem!

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