A counterfeit banknote detection pen is a pen used to apply an iodine-based ink to banknotes in an attempt to determine their authenticity. Counterfeit banknote detection pens are used to detect counterfeit Swiss franc, euro and United States banknotes, amongst others. Typically, genuine banknotes are printed on paper based on cotton fibers and do not contain the starches that are reactive with iodine. When the pen is used to mark genuine bills, the mark is yellowish or colourless.
The counterfeit detector pen is extremely simple. It contains an iodine solution that reacts with the starch in wood-based paper to create a black stain. When the solution is applied to the fiber-based paper used in real bills, no discoloration occurs. The pen does nothing but detect bills printed on normal copier paper instead of the fine papers used by the U.S. Treasury. The counterfeit detection pens look for characteristics of paper that is not used for US currency. Crane’s product is sized with animal fat and glycerine. Commercial bond paper is sized with starch. The pen is an iodine solution. Iodine and starch combine as black. If the pen detects starch on the note, it will react. Older notes have been in circulation a long time – they have had many opportunities to get contaminated with something that will react to the pen.
It used to be that a counterfeiting operation used expensive presses and special inks and papers to create exact duplicates of the bills. Today, the threat is much more mundane — people with color copiers and color printers try to create passable facsimiles of a bill. They are not trying to make an exact copy. They are trying to create something close enough that people won’t notice anything if they give the bill a passing glance. These folks are not particularly careful or meticulous, so they copy or print onto normal, wood-based paper.
Such pens are most effective against counterfeit notes printed on standard printer or photocopier paper. The chemical properties of US banknotes prior to 1960 are such that marking pens do not work.
How It Works:
Federal Reserve notes in the US use cotton- and fiber-based material in their production, at 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen. Counterfeit detector pens have felt tips containing an iodine solution that reacts with the starch in wood-based counterfeits. When the reaction between the starch and solution occurs, the ink changes to a different color, thus alerting you of a counterfeit bill. Some counterfeit detector pens use colorless ink, but this can render a problem when people forget which bills they have already screened; in this case, a colored variant is an option. Some pens also come with extra features like an ultraviolet light at the other end to help reveal the embedded security strip in authentic banknotes newer than 1996.
Before your customer leaves, screen the bills using the tool. Take off the cap on the pen and mark one portion of the bill slightly. The color change should instantly occur in case of a counterfeit. Do not worry about soiling the bill, as the color dissipates after a day.
For an added layer of security, you can use a UV light either in the form of a lamp, or sometimes with the light at the end of some detector pens. In the case of a lamp, bring the bill under the light, and you should see the embedded security strip at the right of the portrait. When using the UV light on a pen, ensure that you are away from direct sunlight: hold the light under the bill and direct it at the area to the right of the portrait.
Counterfeit banknote detection pen manufacturers claim such pens will detect a great majority of counterfeit bills, and are an easy counterfeit detection method that does not require expensive gadgets.
Detector pens are not foolproof, and malicious fellows always look for new ways to make funny money less detectable. With this in mind, some have criticized the devices, stating that bad bills can pass the screening because counterfeiters use starch-free paper. Furthermore, US counterfeiters bleach smaller valued notes and print larger values on them, but the changes in 2004 have nullified this with the different bill sizes for each value.
The 100-dollar banknote change of 2013 has also made counterfeiting the bill more difficult. Aside from using the pen, you can make sure the money is authentic by checking the blue holographic security thread woven into the middle with the images of the number 100 along the thread, which also changes into bells when tilted back and forth. Additionally, check that the inkwell and quill design change color slightly when looked at in different angles. Five-dollar bills usually contain a woven security thread with the number five written vertically along the thread, which is visible when you hold the bill in front of a light.
The effectiveness of the pens may be skewed- one way or the other. Simply having a banknote pass through laundry, depending on the soaps and bleaches used, can cause a bill to fail the test when it is otherwise OK. Additionally, it was discovered almost immediately that changing the acidity of a note, or most any other piece of paper, a napkin, typical typing paper, cardboard, et cetera, with lemon juice, will cause a false positive, that is, a place mat in a restaurant with lemon juice on it will appear to be a valid banknote.
Critics suggest the effectiveness is much lower. Critics claim that professional counterfeiters use starch-free paper, making the pen unable to detect the majority of counterfeit money in circulation. Magician and skeptic James Randi has written about the ineffectiveness of counterfeit pens on numerous occasions and uses a pen as an example during his lectures. Randi claims to have contacted a United States Secret Service inspector and asked whether the pen works as advertised, to which the inspector replied “it is not dependable.” The Secret Service does not include such pens in their guidelines for the public’s detection of counterfeit US currency.
US counterfeiters bleach small denominations and print more valuable bills on the resulting blank paper to evade this test, although changes to the currency since 2004 have made this method easier to detect. This is one reason that many currencies use different sized notes for different denominations.