Laws and Regulations
Counterfeiting Federal Reserve notes is a federal crime. Visit the United States Secret Service’s website for detailed information.
Manufacturing counterfeit United States currency or altering genuine currency to increase its value is a violation of Title 18, Section 471 of the United States Code and is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, or 15 years imprisonment, or both.
Possession of counterfeit United States obligations with fraudulent intent is a violation of Title 18, Section 472 of the United States Code and is punishable by a fine of up to $15,000, or 15 years imprisonment, or both.
Anyone who manufactures a counterfeit U.S. coin in any denomination above five cents is subject to the same penalties as all other counterfeiters. Anyone who alters a genuine coin to increase its numismatic value is in violation of Title 18, Section 331 of the United States Code, which is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, or imprisonment for up to five years, or both.
Forging, altering, or trafficking in United States government checks, bonds, or other obligations is a violation of Title 18, Section 510 of the United States Code and is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000, or 10 years imprisonment, or both.
Printed reproductions, including photographs of paper currency, checks, bonds, postage stamps, revenue stamps, and securities of the United States and foreign governments (except under the conditions previously listed) are violations of Title 18, Section 474 of the United States Code. Violations are punishable by fines of up to $5,000, or 15 years imprisonment, or both.
Currency Image Use -- Reproducing Color Illustrations of U.S. Currency
Federal law permits color illustrations of U.S. currency only under the following conditions:
- the illustration is of a size less than three-fourths or more than one and one-half, in linear dimension, of each part of the item illustrated;
- the illustration is one-sided; and
- all negatives, plates, positives, digitized storage medium, graphic files, magnetic medium, optical storage devices and any other thing used in the making of the illustration that contain an image of the illustration or any part thereof are destroyed and/or deleted or erased after their final use.
18 U.S.C. § 504(1), 31 CFR § 411.1.
Black and White Reproductions
Title 18, United States Code, Section 504 permits black and white reproductions of currency and other obligations, provided such reproductions meet the size requirement.
Use and reproduction of U.S. currency for advertising purposes prohibited under federal law
Under section 475 of the U.S. Criminal Code, “whoever designs, engraves, prints, makes, or executes, or utters, issues, distributes, circulates, or uses any business or professional card, notice, placard, circular, handbill, or advertisement in the likeness or similitude of any obligation or security of the United States issued under or authorized by any Act of Congress or writes, prints, or otherwise impresses upon or attaches to any such instrument, obligation, or security, or any coin of the United States, any business or professional card, notice, or advertisement, or any notice or advertisement whatever, shall be fined under this title.” 18 U.S.C. § 475.
Defacement of Currency
Defacement of currency is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code. Under this provision, currency defacement is generally defined as follows: Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
Visit www.secretservice.gov for additional information.
Legal Tender: A Definition
Section 31 U.S.C. 5103. Legal Tender
United States coins and currency (including Federal Reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal Reserve Banks and national banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues. Foreign gold or silver coins are not legal tender for debts.
However, there is no federal statute which mandates that private businesses must accept cash as a form of payment. Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise.
Riegle Improvement Act
Section 5119(b)(2) of Title 31, United States Code, was amended by the Riegle Community Development and Regulatory Improvement Act of 1994 (Public Law 103-325) to read as follows: "The Secretary shall not be required to reissue United States currency notes upon redemption." This does not change the legal tender status of United States Notes nor does it require a recall of those notes already in circulation. This provision means that United States Notes are to be cancelled and destroyed but not reissued. This will eventually result in a decrease in the amount of these notes outstanding.
United States Notes are an obsolete form of currency last printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in 1968. The Riegle Community Development and Regulatory Improvement Act, Public Law 103-325, codified at 31 U.S.C. 5119(b)(2), enacted in September 1994, amended 31 U.S.C. by canceling the requirement to reissue these notes when they are redeemed.
Some numismatic groups have expressed interest in selling selected notes to the public. The BEP consulted with Treasury's Financial Management Service and the Bureau of the Public Debt, and the following determination was made:
- Releasing the notes to the public will violate the spirit of the act, which authorized the Secretary to "not be required to reissue United States Notes upon redemption."
- The Bureau of Engraving and Printing lacks the legal statutory authority to sell these notes to the public.
- The Bureau of Engraving and Printing lacks any mechanism by which it could release the notes to the public now that the requirement to reissue them when redeemed is no longer in effect.