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The Secrets of the Secret Service and Counterfeit Money

Learn how the Secret Service started and about their not-so-secret job.

The United States Secret Service is best known for protecting the president. But they do a lot more than that, in fact, protecting the president wasn’t even part of their original job. The United States Secret Service (USSS) was founded to stop counterfeiting.

The Secret Service was formed on July 5, 1865, a few months after the Civil War ended. Their job was stopping counterfeit money (fake money). At that time, almost half the money in the country was fake.money

It wasn’t until 1863 that the federal government started printing money. Before then, individual state banks printed all the money in the United States. The federal government provided designs and the paper. But every bank printed the money just a little different. This made it easy to make fake, or counterfeit, money.

After the federal government took over printing and minting money, people were still counterfeiting money. The new problem was no one was really an expert yet on what money was supposed to look like. And that is where the United States Secret Service comes in. It became their job to know a real bill from a fake.

How do they spot counterfeit money against real bills? Some of that is secret—it is the Secret Service after all. But if you take a magnifying glass to some bills, you can see small details:

  • Paper money isn’t really paper. It’s a cloth called rag paper, and in that rag paper are special colored fibers that only real money will have.
  • The details are so fine that not even the best copy machines and scanners can pick up all the detail.
  • The printing presses used to make money are one of a kind and leave their own unique marks on the bills.
  • A lot of modern money uses special watermarks that are in the paper itself and only visible when held up to a light.
  • Some bills also have special strips of plastic inside the paper.
  • The ink used is different too, some actually stands out from the paper. Other parts are printed with an ink that changes color depending on how you hold the money.

If you want to help and maybe someday join the USSS, try checking for counterfeit money every time you get a new bill. Does it feel right? Hold the bill to the light, is the watermark there? What about the security strip? If you do want to work for the Secret Service, in any role, paying attention to details is important.

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