How to check your cash this Christmas shopping season

With the busy festive shopping period approaching and a shiny new $50 note in circulation, it’s important for business operators to be aware of the security features on Australian banknotes.

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More cash will be used during the busy Christmas shopping season, potentially making it easier for fake notes to be passed without detection.

The $50 note – the most widely-distributed and the most counterfeited banknote in circulation – had a makeover this October, with the release of a new note. Boasting new security features, the latest $50 note is part of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA) upgrade of Australia’s banknotes.

RBA Deputy Head of Note Issue James Holloway says there are a mix of old and new $50s in circulation.

“With a lot of cash changing hands over Christmas, it’s important people are familiar with the banknote security features – of both the new series and the older designs – to be able to quickly authenticate whether it’s a genuine note and minimise the risk of receiving a couterfeit,” Holloway says.

“We urge businesses to take advantage of the training videos and print materials we have available on our banknotes website. This material can help front-line staff become familiar with how to quickly and effectively check Australian banknotes.”

The risk of counterfeit notes

Australia has one of the safest and most secure currencies in the world and has historically experienced relatively low levels of counterfeiting.

In 2017/18, about 26,000 counterfeits with a nominal value of almost $2 million were detected in circulation in Australia, corresponding to around 16 counterfeits per million genuine banknotes, which the RBA defines as low by international standards.

To keep banknotes secure and to stay well ahead of counterfeiters, the RBA is introducing a new series of banknotes. The new series $50, with its arsenal of hi-tech security features, is the latest step in the RBA’s strategy to protect the currency. It follows the release of the new $5 note in 2016 and the $10 note in 2017. The remaining two denominations – the $20 and $100 notes – will follow.

The $50’s release is a major milestone in the fight against increasingly technologically-advanced counterfeiters.

The $50 note accounts for almost half of all banknotes in use, and is the most targeted for counterfeiting. Last year 15,351 fake $50 notes were detected with a nominal value of more than $768,000.

Be aware but not alarmed

With a bumper Christmas trading period predicted, cash registers are likely to be busy but operators need to ensure staff check notes and are aware they can refuse to accept suspicious ones.

NAB’s Ruth Johnston, Senior Consultant, Next Generation Banknotes, says the message to businesses is “be aware but not alarmed” to protect themselves from becoming a victim of counterfeiters.

“The businesses that are targeted are often ones who operate on low margins, so it can be a significant loss if it happens to them,” she says. “Counterfeits have no value and there’s no compensation for them.

“The message is to be aware – understand what the new notes look like but also be familiar with the features of the old notes as well.”

How to spot a fake

The new $50 note’s security features make Australia’s currency more secure from counterfeiting.

While retaining the familiar images of historic figures David Unaipon and Edith Cowan, it has the same security features as the $5 and $10 bills, including a top-to-bottom clear window with dynamic features including a reversing number and flying bird as well as microprint and a patch with a rolling colour effect. Tilting the note shows the effects in action.

It also has a ‘tactile’ feature – four raised bumps on each of the long edges of the note – to assist people who are blind or who have low vision.

The RBA outlines the features of all its notes in detail on its website, and also has a handy guide you can print out for quick referral in the workplace as well as a mobile phone app.

What to do if you find a fake

It’s an offence to knowingly possess counterfeit banknotes. Suspect banknotes should be given to state or federal police.

If you believe notes you’ve received might be fake, make sure you handle them as little as possible and store them in an envelope. Try to note any relevant information that might help police in their investigations, such as how they might have come into your possession.

You are within your rights not to accept a suspicious note from a customer and to ask for a different one instead.

It is important to note that counterfeits have no value – if you do accept a counterfeit, you will not be reimbursed.