Counterfeiting: Make a Fake Nickle and Spend 15 Years in Prison
It is a federal offense to manufacture or use unauthorized forms of currency, such as fake bills and coins. Only the federal government has the authority to permit organizations to print or manufacture currency and the government strictly punishes counterfeiting activity.
In some cases, charges may be filed simply for attempting to use counterfeit money to make a purchase. Although it is not a crime to unwittingly use fake bills to buy an item, if a store discovers a customer attempting to pass a fake bill, they will notify the police to investigate.
A conviction for counterfeiting money is a serious matter. This is a federal felony charge that cannot be erased from a person’s criminal record if a conviction is secured.
Sentences for Counterfeiting Money
Lengthy prison time and fines are the most likely outcome of acounterfeiting conviction. However, additional penalties may be added under certain circumstances. For example, a person who derives significant financial benefit from a counterfeiting operation may be subject to fines amounting to twice the total amount gained.
Typical examples of penalties for this crime are:
- A term of incarceration in federal prison for up to 20 years
- A fine not to exceed $250,000
- Counterfeiting gold bars or coins over five cents may get 15 years in prison
- Passing or attempting to pass counterfeit gold or silver bars can lead to five years in prison
Defenses for Fake Money
In some cases, the federal government may choose not to pursue a conviction against a defendant who has been charged with counterfeiting.
For example, if a person scans and copies a $20 bill and then alters the bill to write a joke message to a friend, charges may not be filed. This is because there was no attempt to use the bill in a fraudulent way, even though the act of copying the bill is technically illegal.
Additionally, in order for a copied bill to be legally declared counterfeit, it must be so similar to a real bill that it would be expected to fool anyone except an expert. If, for example, a person made a copy of a bill but printed it on bright pink paper, it would be obvious to the average person that the money was not legitimate currency. Therefore, such a bill would probably not be legally considered counterfeit for the purposes of prosecution.
A person charged with attempting to pass fake bills may be able to claim that they did so unknowingly or unintentionally. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to carry out a criminal act in order to get a conviction. If they can’t do so, the charges may be dropped.