The Bank of England is warning retailers to take extra care to guard against worthless counterfeit banknotes this festive season.

Higher volumes of customers, busy tills and temporary staff all combine to increase the risk of counterfeit banknotes being passed in the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year, it said.

In the first half of this year, around 119,000 counterfeit notes were removed from circulation, according to the Bank.

With no worth, failing to spot a counterfeit banknote will cost a store money and damage its reputation if accidentally passed on, it added.

People trying to pass counterfeit notes will often try to buy a low value item, using a high value note such as a £20. “This is so that they can get away with your stock and money from your till,” the bank said.

Quick manual checks on each note’s security features can help prevent fakes being accepted.


  • The feel of the paper and print. The Bank of England lettering should feel raised.
  • The watermark. The Queen’s portrait should appear when held up to the light.
  • The metallic thread. Should appear as a continuous line when held up to the light.
  • The print quality. Colours and lines should be sharp, clear and free from smudges or blurred edges.

Once a counterfeit note is suspected or discovered it is a retailer’s responsibility to notify the police. It is a criminal offence to knowingly hold or pass on a note that is known or suspected to be counterfeit.

The Bank of England has recently decided that £5, £10 and £20 banknotes will be printed on polymer in a bid to improve counterfeit resistance.

From the middle of next year the new £5 (featuring Sir Winston Churchill) will be introduced, with a new £10 note (featuring Jane Austen) introduced in 2017. The new notes will be around 15% smaller.

Polymer banknotes are cleaner, more secure, and more durable than paper banknotes. They will provide enhanced counterfeit resilience, and increase the quality of banknotes in circulation, the bank added.

A full education and publicity programme will soon be launched to ensure that retailers, businesses, and the general public are fully aware of what the new notes look like and how to authenticate them.