Can fake money be legal? When it follows the rules

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – When Sheriff’s investigators and State Police announced, earlier this week, they had seized counterfeit cash in Niagara County, there was speculation some of the fake bills might have been “prop money”—phony currency that can be bought on the Internet legally.

The U.S. Secret Service has tracked counterfeit notes from 50 different locations across Western New York in recent months, and says none of it was “prop money”, or “novelty notes”— bills printed to resemble real cash, as a novelty, and it can be purchased by the box full online.

Lewis Robinson, the Special Agent in Charge of the Secret Service’s Buffalo Field Office said there are a number of ways to tell if a phony bill is a novelty note, or an illegal attempt to pass counterfeit currency. First, a novelty note can only be printed to resemble money on one side—the flip side cannot.

Novelty notes are required to be smaller–three fourths the size of an actual bill–or larger, one-and-a-half times the size of an actual bill.

Some fake cash is also called “prop money” because it is used in movies, TV shows, and on stage, but as Robinson pointed out, the counterfeit money recovered in Niagara County this week was printed on both sides, and was made to look real.

Robinson made another important point, “novelty notes” can only be used for one purpose, “At the end of producing this novelty note, if it is produced digitally, you have destroy all the digital images, everything that is on your computer.” That is so the phony money, and the images it is printed from, cannot be used again.

If you have any doubt the bill in your hand might be counterfeit, Robinson said, check it against the other money you know to be genuine. The Secret Service has a pamphlet called “Know Your Money” and it is available at their website. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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