Not Like The Movies: Why Counterfeiting Rarely Works

If you’ve ever seen a heist film, you’ve probably thought to yourself, “could that actually work? Could you get away with that?” Most of the time, the answer is “no,” but some people have decided to test their luck and give what you see in movies a shot. Unfortunately, it almost never quite works out. Here’s why counterfeiting using movie money rarely works, even if the bills themselves look convincing.

Why People Try

You see it plenty of times in the movies; the fake bill looks exactly like the real one to the naked eye. Believe it or not, that’s not too far off the mark, since most movie money is designed to look close enough to real bills where people won’t question it when they see it on screen. In fact, people have confused movie money for real money before, despite the bill saying on it “for motion picture only.” People assume that for small transactions, people won’t look closely enough at the fake bills to identify the differences, and it’s for that reason that movie studios in the United States have to be careful about how they design their fake bills.

Why It Doesn’t Work

Unfortunately for the people who try it, counterfeiting money just doesn’t work like it does in the movies. Even though more than one-third of new paper is made with recycled fiber today, the specific fibers used in making legal money is very specific and difficult to accurately replicate. Real U.S. currency paper consists of 25% linen and 75% cotton, with red and blue security fibers randomly distributed and embedded throughout. In contrast, prop movie money is printed on a high-quality paper that doesn’t feel like real currency. As soon as you handle the money yourself, you should be able to tell that the money isn’t real, but even if that doesn’t work, there are plenty of other security measures built into paper money to keep it from being easily counterfeited.

The Real Theft

So if counterfeiting money doesn’t work, what sorts of theft do? Unlike all they heist movies you’ve seen, most major theft is actually fairly boring. One of the main ways people steal money? Tax avoidance. Americans fail to pay $458 billion a year in taxes, which, while not quite as exciting as counterfeiting bills or breaking into a bank, is still theft. So-called white collar crimes like tax avoidance and embezzlement make up the majority of true theft in this country. And, unlike what we’re shown in the movies, women actually commit 51% of embezzlement crimes. You might not see a movie about it any time soon, but it’s far more likely that you’ll find someone stealing money by not paying their taxes on time.

While movie money might look convincing on screen, it’s not going to get you very far in the real world. Next time you’re watching a heist movie, keep an eye on how they handle the counterfeiting; you’ll be surprised at just how much movie magic goes into it to make counterfeiting look easy. Plenty of security measures and systems exist to make sure movie money, and other fake printed bills, can’t be used as actual legal tender cash.