Hey, Bank of America! Your ATM Gave Me A Fake $20

We’d always sort of assumed that someone had to check the to make sure money was real before they put it into an ATM, but apparently a few fake bills have been known to slip by. Wealth Junkie blogger Alexander had $4 in his wallet when he stopped by a Bank of America ATM to get cash for his Costco shopping trip. When a cashier at Costco spotted a fake $20, Alexander knew exactly where it came from.

The Costco cashier was nice enough to give Alexander the fake $20 to take back to Bank of America, where the bank apologized and told him that they outsource their ATMs to another company.

From Wealth Junkie:

All in all the lady at the bank was nice. She said that she had never seen an instance where the ATM machine was the one with the counterfeit bill. I told her that this was not about the money and I did not need for her to give me the $20 there and then. However, I did expect for the bank to take responsibility and for her to credit my account within a few days.

After a number of phone calls and about 40 minutes of my time, she figured out how to handle it paperwork-wise so her teller would not be off by $20. Then she gave me a new $20. And that was that.

We’re surprised the Costco cashier let him keep the fake $20. One time a cashier at Taco Bell told us we had a fake single. She showed it to us and sure enough, it was about as real as monopoly money. There was, like, a picture of Stephen Colbert on it. Not really. We’d gotten it as change from a pizza guy the night before…which says something about our diet. Anyway, she wouldn’t let us keep it. Who knew that fake singles even existed? —MEGHANN MARCO

Bank of America Gave Me A Counterfeit $20 [Wealth Junkie]


Edit Your Comment

  1. nweaver says:

    The photo suggests it is a GOOD fake.

    How was it determined to be counterfeit?

  2. acambras says:

    I thought the Secret Service was supposed to be called whenever counterfeit money is detected.

  3. winnabago says:

    Looks like it’s a little smaller, for one.

  4. The size different might just be an optical illusion but there’s definitely no right-side watermark on the fake’n.

  5. Hedgy2136 says:

    Probably because the black mark near the Great Seal of the USA is from one of those counterfeit detecting pens. If real, they do not leave a mark.

  6. muddgirl says:

    @nweaver: On the counterfeit bill, you can see the pen mark where they checked the bill and the mark turned the wrong color.

    From Wikipedia: “When the pen is used to mark genuine bills, the mark is yellowish or clear…counterfeit notes are often printed on the commonly used wood pulp based paper. The iodine in the ink reacts to starch in the wood pulp, and the pen makes a dark mark indicating a counterfeit note.”

  7. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    I knew someone many years ago who used some high end printers and scanners (high end for the time) and, to see if it would work, made counterfit $1s and $5s. He told me he used them at gas stations and nobody noticed. I didn’t know him at the time, so I didn’t actually see what they looked like. It is probably easier to use counterfit $1s, as nobody will really look at it.

  8. SexCpotatoes says:

    Counterfieting is a federal crime, usually tellers etc. are requiered to keep it and call the secret service or the treasury or something so they can investigate you for trying to pass fake bills.

    At least that’s how I understood it….

    but awhile back there was a story about this guy who’s an artist and he designs his own U.S. currency, and then prints a bill up, and then goes and tries to use it for purchases. His works command big money to collectors, like $2000+ for a $100 bill. If some guy tried to bargain with that sort of money I’d google him and ask for ID (and of course take it if I could sell it later, just replace it with $100 of my own money.

  9. He says:

    @nweaver: The most obvious difference from the photo is that TWENTYUSA and USATWENTY are missing on the right overlaying the seal and the other TWENTY that is there. Also the ink doesn’t look as black, but it’s hard to be sure from a photo.

  10. SexCpotatoes says:

    whoops, forgot to spell check, and I’m low on sleep, now I look stupid-er

  11. GitEmSteveDave says:

    @Hedgy2136: I used to work at a supermarket, and I remember that the stores weekly circulars would not react to the pen mark. I thought it was funny that a cheapo circular could defeat the pen.

    Also, the best detector of counterfeit currency is an experienced teller or cashier. Not people like that cashier at Best Buy who thought $2 dollar bills were not real.

  12. smallestmills says:

    Fake bills, (even great ones) usually feel funny. Also,some thieves will wash the hell out of a $5 and print the larger bill over it. We got one at work, we knew it was funny, but passed all the tests (watermark, thread, pen.) Upon closer examination, we realized that the watermark was of Abe Lincoln, and not Ben Franklin.

  13. Ryan Duff says:

    Legally, when a business comes across counterfeit money, they need to call the local police who handle it until the Feds (FBI, I think) get involved to investigate.

    The cashier never should have let him have the $20 back. Had he been a counterfitter trying to pass it off, that’s just a free ticket for him to go and try to use it somewhere else.

  14. tomok97 says:

    There isn’t much incentive to counterfeiting one dollar bills. You’d have to make a whole of them and people get suspicious when you pay for your new HDTV with 3,500 brand new one dollar bills. ;)

    As for calling the cops, I think most businesses would advise you to give the money back and let the person go. Especially if it’s just a twenty dollar bill. It’s not worth the risk of someone getting violent. It’s the same reason they don’t confiscate bad credit cards anymore like they used to. Too many cashiers got punched in the face.

  15. mac-phisto says:

    he’s lucky he got the $20 credit from BOA. the standard rule is whoever got it is stuck with the loss (which sucks).

    those pens don’t work all the time anymore. word on the street is that counterfeiters are now bleaching 1’s & 5’s to make larger bills that pass the paper test.

  16. rjstsas says:

    Couterfit detector pens do not work – http://calladus.blogspot.com/2006/09/testing-counterfeit-m

  17. imgonephishin says:

    I’m not surprised at all that this would happen.

    I used to work as a teller at PNC Bank and would stock the ATMs with cash. The bills put into the ATM mostly came from weekly money shipment. Those bills were from an official facility and always legit. In addition, though, we would add any extra bills the bank received in deposits during the week (the branch was charged based on how much money we shipped in and out, so we obviously tried to reuse all that we could). This is where a counterfeit could slip through. Our branch’s ATMs often gave out upwards of 40K a day, and it is entirely impractical to test every bill.

    And yes, when we caught counterfeit bills on the teller line we filled out a quick form for the Secret Service and mailed it away. I don’t know the policy for retail stores on giving back the bill.

    I’m actually quite impressed that BoA gave him 20 bucks. Usually it’s like a hot potato and whoever gets stuck last with it is screwed.

    Counterfeits can look very good (and those pen tests are easily screwed up by the presence of very trace amounts of potassium), but the foolproof way to catch a counterfeit is the feel of paper. When you handle thousands of bills a day, that rare one that does feel right stands out like a sore thumb. Humorously, the best counterfeiting job I saw in my time were not any of the dozen hundreds or fifties, but a bang-up job on a one dollar bill. That’s right. One dollar!

  18. where the bank apologized and told him that they outsource their ATMs to another company.

    “It’s not our fault!” – The new rallying cry of corporate America.

  19. MMongol says:

    SexCPotatoes: The artist you’re thinking of goes by “J.S.G. Boggs”. He’s phenomenally talented and utterly insane. The man drinks liters of scotch a day, goes through people’s trash, gets into random barfights… and can draw a perfect replica of a dollar bill freehand. There’s a documentary out there on him, though it focuses more on his art and legal troubles than his lunacy.

  20. huadpe says:

    @mac-phisto: Actually, BoA probably made a smart move by replacing it. If they had not, then they would be attempting to pass a fake bill off and charge someone’s account for it. Last I checked, that would make them liable for fraud and counterfeiting. By outsourcing the ATMs to a third party, BoA is in fact the one who gets stuck with the loss when counterfeits pop up.

  21. mac-phisto says:

    @huadpe: i understand what you’re saying, but the burden of proof is on the holder of the bill. i’m just surprised that this was promptly taken care of on the branch-level w/o the usual red tape.

  22. Skeptic says:

    Those stupid pens don’t catch good counterfeits–they are nothing but iodine which reacts to starch. All you would have to do to fool them is to use paper that doesn’t have starch sizing in it.

    Magician James Randi got so annoyed by the misplaced trust in these pens that he says he used to take out stacks of $50 bills from the bank, spray starch them on both sides and return them to the bank. Banks don’t use iodine pens.

    I wonder how many cashier’s tried to confiscate those $50 dollar bills when they used the pens on them?

    If you want to check for counterfeits you are much better off looking for the translucent security strip, the watermark, the color changing ink and the feel of the paper and raised quality of the intaglio printing–and the microprinting if you really want to go overboard.

  23. North of 49 says:

    I refuse to use the older Canadian $20s. There was an entire show on either W5 or a CBC documentary about how this group in the Toronto area had managed to fake everything about it, including the security features. They managed to get the old hologram as well!

    They only got caught cause they got greedy.

    We have gotten a fake $10 from a pizza delivery place, but that was years ago. Yet, it too had the same type of security features as the $20. So now I make sure that the banks change out the older $20s for newer ones when I deal with a teller. With the ATMs, I just cross my fingers and pray they weren’t filled with phonies.

    And I never EVER use those “white box” atms either.

  24. Scuba Steve says:

    Not to be a terribly offtopic bother, but Kotaku tried the CLASSIFICATION: Headline trick a long time ago in it’s RSS feed and everyone hated it. Now I log on and see Consumerist, Lifehacker,and Gizmodo doing it? Farking Great.

  25. AaronGNP says:

    Actually the vendors that fill these machines (Loomis Fargo, Brinks, etc.) usually get their money directly from the Federal Reserve. The cash vendors rarely go through the stacks of cash, bill by bill, and so if The Fed gives them a counterfeit, it’s tough to catch where the vendor and ultimately, The Fed, got the bad bill from.

    BofA (or any other bank) shouldn’t be blamed for something like this happening, as long as they take care of the customer with minimal hassle.


  26. ShadowFalls says:

    Come on, you know how big business works. They will try and shift blame to others. They might say it is your fault for not noticing it immediately, or the fault of someone they contracted to do the work. It seems corporate America is nothing but a group of children pointing fingers at everyone else till you give up with frustration or threaten to punish them all.

  27. legotech says:

    I was a cashier at a supermarket working the closing shift, we stayed open until like 1030, but after 8pm it was pretty much just stock staff and a couple of cashiers along with the security guy.

    ’round about 10pm one night a guy comes up with some beer and frozen food…nothing big, hands me the WORST fake $20 I’d ever seen. It was like a crappy xerox copy, like it was a 5th generation xerox copy!

    I handed it to the security guy without even batting an eye. The rest of the story? The bill passer was a retired state cop!!!!

    The officers that came from the local PD were very nice to him as they escorted him to jail.

  28. Die Schwarze Ewigkeit says:

    I work at a gas station part time. Across the street is a bank. An HSBC, if it matters. People semiregularly get bogus $20’s out of the drive-up ATM over there then come across the street to the station where I am. I inform the hapless individual when then hand me the bill that it’s bogus, who then, flabbergasted, stomps back over to the bank to complain. They always get a replacement $20. My guess is that the bank shoves them in the ATM in an attempt to pass the buck (pun intended).

    These $20’s are usually inkjet prints, frequently torn and taped back together, assumedly because counterfeiters think that’ll make me not look as closely. Apparently it never occurs to them to check that the color is even close, that they’re not too small or that the feel isn’t off. The feel’s a dead giveaway. I don’t stare down every Andy that passes through there, but the ones that feel off get a second glance. 80% of the time, the odd ones are just whooped or torn or something. But the other 20% of the time, they’re about as real as Micheal Jackson’s nose.

  29. Skeptic says:

    “80% of the time, the odd ones are just whooped or torn or something. But the other 20% of the time, they’re about as real as Micheal Jackson’s nose.”

    Real currency is printed on paper with a very high rag content. The paper is much more durable than regular paper. I’d guess the counterfeits don’t last as long or that the attempt to make them seem used and less “fresh from the color inkjet printer” also rips the inferior paper inadvertently. (Remember tumbling fake bills in a dryer with coins or rocks or something from “To Live and Die in LA?”)

  30. zolielo says:

    I do not advice people to deal in counterfeit money but if you are innocently in control of a fake bill and are called out by a vendor. Change the dynamic of the situation by stating the fake bill was received from their establishment as change previously. This should shift their mindset in a way that will likely be advantageous.

  31. jaewon223 says:

    I was unaware that there was so much counterfeiting…

  32. You can easily tell if it’s fake, by the hand of the fabric/paper. Money is made in a special combo of paper, linen and cotton. People who handle great deals of money, can easily ‘feel’ a fake.

  33. Trackback says:

    Hey Bank of America! Your ATM Gave Me A Fake $20 Wealth Junkie (who has a blog) received a fake $20 on a routine ATM trip, and didn’t know it was fake until a Costco employee informed him. He brought it back to the bank and they apologized. What is a Secured Credit Card?

  34. kuipo says:

    once… a teacher of my school went to cash a check to a bank, she received her money… then she went to her bank to deposit that money to her bank account, immediately the cashier called the cop that is at the bank… then they took her to other room to interrogate her, and then took pictures of her to upload them to the system or something.. and that if she was ever seen again with counterfeit money she would be arrested for… well.. counterfeiting, even do she had just received the money from the other bank, then she went back to the other bank to file a complain, but they just ignored her and told her that there’s no way that could’ve happen! hahahah

  35. tinfoil_hat says:

    I work for Bank of America, and our policy is, if a customer hands in a counterfeit bill, we must confiscate it immediately and send it to the secret service. I’ve never been able to credit the customer’s account and I’m surprised that it went so easy for this customer. In fact, I’ve had customers come in with fake currency to ask our opinion that I’ve had to confiscate. We can be fired for letting a customer leave with counterfeit bills

    In our area, mostly off-site ATMs are outsourced, but ones found in banks are most often handled by tellers. I can also tell you that we do machine count ATM money before it goes in, but we do not check for counterfeit, since we receive that money from the currency company. Most banks have money counters that detect counterfeit currency, but my branch does not currently because of the cost of these machines.

    Most counterfeits I have encountered have been of very poor quality and very obvious. However, the pen is not a dependable tool. We have encountered some real bills that give questionable results with pens.

  36. swalve says:

    I worked at McDonalds. Another manager had a bill that was fake, it had been done on a color laser copier or printer. The feel was wrong, but not entirely- they had turned up the toner density so that all the lines would feel bumpy just like a real bill. Upon close inspection, you could even see the red and white fibers in the paper. (This was like 12 years ago, and it was an older style bill without the newer fancy security stuff).

    So, it feels fake but the fibers are there so it’s real. So I get out the magnifying glass to find that the fibers had actually been printed onto the page, you could see the scan lines from the laser.

    Since we weren’t *sure* it was fake, even though it was, we just put it in the deposit and the bank took it. (Which of course means nobody believes this story when I tell it, but the damned thing was fake.)

    Another money fun-fact- the bills are printed with a process that’s backwards of the regular offset process. I think it’s called something like negative image printing. A normal offset print job will have a metal plate with raised features where the ink should go. It’s coated with ink and then pressed onto the page. But with money, the unprinted area is raised and the area where the print will be is deep. The “holes” are filled with ink, and then the whole thing is squeegeed off so the raised area are clean. Then it’s pressed into the paper at a very high pressure such that it flattens the white areas and smashes ink into the areas to be printed. Check out a newish bill and you’ll feel that the inky area is sort of raised. But unlike say a raised ink business card, the bump is actually uncompressed paper and not just a lump of ink.

    Fun fact two- did you know the sparkly ink on the newer bills is two color? Look at it straight on and it’s one color, offset it’s another. The newest 20s demonstrate this very well: head on it’s a copper color, to the side its a gold/brass color. And pretty much anything you do to to the ink it will retain that quality.

    #3- the security strip glows different colors depending on the denomination under UV light.

    #4- The largest bill currently produced is the $100. No $500s, $1000s, etc.

    #5- Strippers get confused when you tip with $2 bills.

  37. CyGuy says:

    I’m just puzzled why the guy went to the ATM just prior to shopping at CostCo, I just use my ATM card to pay at CostCo and then ask for cash back. Saves a trip to the ATM (my credit union has very few of their own) and/or ATM fees for using a machine other than one from my Credit Union.

  38. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Not only is it cheaper to outsource your ATM’s, but BoA probably found it cheaper to outsource their currency supply…after all, money is just so darned expensive in this country. So the $20 bill was printed in China..but hey, who cares… it only cost $5.

  39. zolielo says:

    I know you are joking around but if I recall correctly it cost the US gov between $0.06 and $0.08 to print any bill. Just a bit of trivia. :)

  40. Little Miss Moneybags says:

    This happened to my mother about two years ago. She stopped at a gas station while driving cross-country and took $100 out of their ATM. FOUR of the twenties were fakes!! The clerk at the counter caught them, but she’d seen my mother head straight from the ATM over to the counter, so she handed her four twenties out of the register and said it happened “all the time” and she’d just swap them out with the guy who filled the machine each week.

  41. fdags629 says:

    My preferred method for discovering counterfeit bills is going to a strip club almost all of them have black lights and the fake bills light up bright white. And there are naked women.

  42. mac-phisto says:

    @swalve: lmao on tip #5!

  43. Bobg says:

    oh no!!!!! Not another Bank of America horror story. Glad I won’t ever deal with them.

  44. Hepcephus says:

    Strippers get mad when you tip with coupons.

  45. krazykirk says:

    We never have this problem here in Australia… Since all of our money is printed on plastic instead of paper! It would be extremely hard to counterfeit. Although sometimes people try to pay with coins from other countries…

  46. cnev3 says:

    I just registered on here to comment on this. I just received a counterfeit $20 from a bank of america atm today. I am positive I got it from the ATM as the bill was the only cash I had on me, and I discovered it was fake when I tried to use it 10 minutes after getting it from the ATM.

    I went back to the bank, and after waiting for about 20 minutes, the employee gave me a case number, said I would be getting a call in a few days, and they would send the bill to the secret service. At first she said it wasnt possible to get a fake bill since all the cash comes from their distribution center where all bills are checked. $20 is nothing, but its the principle that matters. I’ve been a loyal customer of theirs for over a decade, and if they deny me my $20 then i’m switching to another bank.