Counterfeit Detection: Altered Serial Numbers

Posted on 9/18/2018

The first-ever edition of PMG Counterfeit Detection shows how innovative technology can be used to identify altered notes.

The China 1980 2 Yuan Pick 885a* is very popular with collectors in the US, and even more popular in the Chinese market. Just as so-called “star notes” can carry large premiums on US currency, replacement notes issued with special prefixes are highly collectible in China.

Unfortunately for Chinese collectors, unscrupulous people will often alter a note’s serial number prefix (or even the number itself) to make the note appear to be a replacement or a note with a fancy serial number. Such is the case with this note recently submitted to PMG’s Shanghai office.

1980 China 2 Yuan (Pick 885a*) with altered serial number prefix.
Click image to enlarge.

As you can see from the photo above, nothing really seems amiss with this note. Even a closer inspection of the prefix would probably not be alarming to an average collector.

Close-up of JZ prefix on altered 1980 China 2 Yuan (Pick 885a*)

However, note how the green security lines appear much darker on the J than the Z and do not quite line up with those on the note. The lines don’t connect because a forger has physically cut out a J from a more common note, removed the letter that was on the present note, and dropped the J in!

Close-up of JZ prefix using specialized lighting

When the counterfeiter transferred the letter, the process changed the fluorescence of the ink in the J. This is very clear in the photo above, as the J is much less fluorescent than the Z and the 4. When such a large difference is seen between two inks that appear the same under visible light, it’s an alert that something has been done to the serial number.

Additional close-up of JZ prefix using specialized lighting

The photo above is the tell-tale sign of alteration on this note. It is very clear that the J is simply sitting on top of the paper rather than being a part of it. This is in comparison to the Z, which is pressed into the paper as a digit should be.

As you can see from this analysis, it can be quite difficult to authenticate the serial number on a note without proper training and equipment. While an experienced PMG grader can easily spot an alteration, collectors should closely inspect any note with a fancy serial number or rare prefix. As always, a note already encapsulated by PMG is backed by the PMG Guarantee of grade and authenticity.

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