Counterfeit Currency

18 U.S. Code § 471 - Obligations or Securities of United States

The government considers counterfeit currency a serious matter. As such, the United States Congress has enacted anti-counterfeiting laws that impose harsh penalties for convicted people.

18 U.S. Code § 471 - Obligations or Securities of United States
it's a federal crime to make, forge, alter, or counterfeit United States currency with intent to defraud.

For money to be considered “counterfeit,” it must be so similar to the authentic currency that it would confuse an ordinary person. It's also a federal crime to possess tools used in counterfeiting money and to buy, sell, exchange, transfer, receive, or deliver counterfeit securities.

Federal laws also prohibit counterfeiting and possessing tools outside the United States, along with counterfeiting obligations and securities that foreign banks issue. The Secret Service seizes millions of dollars annually in counterfeit money.

18 U.S.C. 471 says, “Whoever, with intent to defraud, falsely makes, forges, counterfeits, or alters any obligation or other security of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

While this federal statute is called “obligations or securities,” it's essentially forgery and counterfeiting of United States currency bills using fraud and deceit. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines impose harsh penalties. Let's review this federal law further below.

Counterfeit United States Currency – Explained

As noted, under 18 U.S.C. 471, it's a federal offense to make, alter, or counterfeit any security or obligation belonging to the United States of America, which includes currency, treasury notes, reserve notes, and bonds.

Numerous federal statutes prohibit counterfeit currency creation, distribution, or use. The various federal laws prohibit any of the following:  

  • Holding, passing, publishing, selling, or attempting to do so any counterfeit currency intending to defraud;
  • Making or forging counterfeit foreign currency intending to defraud.
  • Buying, transferring, receiving, or delivering counterfeit currency intending to be passed off as genuine currency.
  • Possessing imprints, digital images, or impressions that were made to create counterfeit money or to sell them while intending to defraud.
  • Possessing equipment and tools used for counterfeit currency, like an image or plate intending to use them for counterfeiting.

Notably, a federal prosecutor must prove you possessed counterfeit currency intending to defraud to secure a conviction. 18 U.S. Code 2320 defines the crime of trafficking in counterfeit goods or services.

What Are the Related Federal Statutes?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 25 Counterfeiting and Forgery has numerous federal statutes that are related to 18 U.S.C. 471 obligations or securities of the United States, such as the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 470 – Counterfeit acts outside the United States;
  • 18 U.S.C. 472 – Uttering counterfeit obligations or securities;
  • 18 U.S.C. 473 – Dealing in counterfeit obligations or securities;
  • 18 U.S.C. 474 – Plates, digital, or electronic images for counterfeiting;
  • 18 U.S.C. 475 – Imitating obligations or securities; advertisements;
  • 18 U.S.C. 476 – Taking impressions of tools used for obligations;
  • 18 U.S.C. 477 – Possession or selling impressions of tools used;
  • 18 U.S.C. 478 – Foreign obligations or securities;
  • 18 U.S.C. 479 – Uttering counterfeit foreign obligations or securities;
  • 18 U.S.C. 480 – Possessing counterfeit foreign obligations or securities;
  • 18 U.S.C. 481 – Plates, stones, or analog, digital, or electronic images;
  • 18 U.S.C. 482 – Foreign banknotes;
  • 18 U.S.C. 483 – Uttering counterfeit foreign bank notes;
  • 18 U.S.C. 484 – Connecting parts of different notes;
  • 18 U.S.C. 485 – Coins or bars;
  • 18 U.S.C. 486 – Uttering coins of gold or other metal;
  • 18 U.S.C. 487 – Making or possessing counterfeit dies for coins;
  • 18 U.S.C. 488 – Making or possessing counterfeit dies for foreign coins;
  • 18 U.S.C. 489 – Making or possessing likeness of coins;
  • 18 U.S.C. 490 – Minor coins;
  • 18 U.S.C. 491 – Tokens or paper used as money;
  • 18 U.S.C. 492 – Forfeiture of counterfeit paraphernalia;
  • 18 U.S.C. 493 – Bonds and obligations of certain lending agencies;
  • 18 U.S.C. 494 – Contractors' bonds, bids, and public records;
  • 18 U.S.C. 495 – Contracts, deeds, and powers of attorney;
  • 18 U.S.C. 496 – Customs matters;
  • 18 U.S.C. 497 – Letters patent;
  • 18 U.S.C. 498 – Military or naval discharge certificates;
  • 18 U.S.C. 499 – Military, naval, or official passes;
  • 18 U.S.C. 500 – Money orders;
  • 18 U.S.C. 501 – Postage stamps, postage meter stamps, postal cards;
  • 18 U.S.C. 502 – Postage and revenue stamps of foreign governments;
  • 18 U.S.C. 503 – Postmarking stamps;
  • 18 U.S.C. 504 – Printing and filming foreign obligations and securities;
  • 18 U.S.C. 505 – Seals of courts; signatures of judges or court officers;
  • 18 U.S.C. 506 – Seals of departments or agencies;
  • 18 U.S.C. 507 – Ship's papers;
  • 18 U.S.C. 508 – Transportation requests of government;
  • 18 U.S.C. 509 – Possessing and making plates or stones;
  • 18 U.S.C. 510 – Forging endorsements on Treasury checks, bonds;
  • 18 U.S.C. 511 – Altering or removing vehicle identification numbers;
  • 18 U.S.C. 512 – Forfeiture of certain motor vehicles and parts;
  • 18 U.S.C. 513 – Securities of the States and private entities;
  • 18 U.S.C. 514 – Fictitious obligations.

What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 471?

Suppose you are convicted of possessing counterfeit currency, coins, or foreign currency. In that case, it's a Class B felony that carries up to 15 years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Suppose you are convicted of possessing equipment and tools intended to be used in counterfeiting foreign currency.  In that case, the penalties include a fine of up to $250,000 and up to 25 years in prison.

Suppose you are convicted of using, creating, or dealing in counterfeit currency. In that case, the penalties include a fine of up to $250,000 and up to 20 years in federal prison.

Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 471

Suppose you are accused of the federal crime of counterfeit currency. In that case, our federal criminal defense attorneys could use different strategies to obtain the best possible outcome, as discussed below.

Defenses for Counterfeit Currency
Contact our law firm for assistance.

Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of intent. Recall that prosecutors must prove you had a specific intent to defraud somebody or pass counterfeit money as real currency. In other words, it's not enough to prove you possessed counterfeit money or materials.

Suppose these crucial elements of the crime can't be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In that case, you have a better chance of avoiding a conviction.

Perhaps we can argue that the quality of the counterfeit current was so poor that it does not rise to the level of being considered fake. Recall from above that the counterfeit currency must be closely similar to authentic money.

Notably, even with poor-quality currency, you might still face prosecution for attempting to produce counterfeit money.

Suppose you are under a criminal investigation for counterfeiting currency. In that case, you need to consult with our law firm immediately. Early intervention could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the case.

You can contact our federal defense lawyer for a free case evaluation by phone or using the contact form. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, CA.

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