Counterfeit Money and Products: A Private Investigator’s Role


What is Counterfeiting?

A counterfeit is an imitation or a fake item that is usually created to deceptively represent its content or origins and increase the perceived value or appeal due to the reputation of the original product.

The word counterfeit most frequently describes forgeries of currency or documents. Still, it can also describe clothing, software, pharmaceuticals, watches, or, more recently, cars and motorcycles, especially when this results in patent or trademark infringement.

All over the world, private individuals, gangs, and criminal organizations participate in the criminal activity of counterfeiting money and products. They illegally duplicate everything from handbags to jewelry to money for their financial gain. The tools, technology, and processes these criminal organizations use are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Sometimes, even trained experts have difficulty telling the real items from the fakes. This makes it increasingly difficult to identify counterfeited materials and even more difficult to trace the goods back to the producer.

Growing Demand for Counterfeit Knockoffs

The main reason behind the continued growth in fake products is there is a very strong demand for the products. Those who produce the fakes can make them more cheaply than the original manufacturers so that they can sell them at a deeply discounted price. Those who purchase the goods are sometimes unaware they are purchasing a knock-off, so they are quite happy with the greatly reduced price. In other cases, consumers are aware they are buying a knock-off, but they are fine with it because it looks very similar to the real thing.

As a result, the process continues to be a thriving industry. In 2013, the Department of Homeland Security confiscated over $1.7 billion in goods at the U.S. Borders alone. This number doesn’t account for what may have slipped through undetected. Nor does it account for goods pirated domestically, shipped, and distributed within the United States.

What are the impacts?

There are several dangers involved with products produced by counterfeiters. First, they aren’t officially inspected by a government agency, so they may not be made up to standard or have defects. Such products can cause physical harm to those who use them, maybe even death.

In addition, the illicit industry impacts the cities in which they operate. For example, the “business” owners don’t pay federal, state, or city taxes. Also, the products may be made by children or teenagers who work in factories or warehouses that are unfit and unsafe.

Also, the industry often contributes to and supports organized crime organizations. Often, these organizations manufacture, distribute, and sell goods. Down the line, the money received is often used for other criminal activities, such as to fund drug trafficking, prostitution, and even terrorist activity.

Preventing Counterfeiting

The Secret Service has exclusive jurisdiction for counterfeiting United States obligations and securities investigations. This authority to investigate counterfeiting is derived from Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 3056. Some of the counterfeited United States obligations and securities commonly dealt with by the Secret Service include:

  • United States currency and coins
  • U.S. Treasury checks
  • Department of Agriculture food coupons
  • U.S. postage stamps

The Secret Service remains committed to combating counterfeiting by working closely with state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as foreign law enforcement agencies, to aggressively pursue counterfeiters. To perform at the highest level, the Secret Service constantly reviews the latest reprographic/lithographic technologies to keep a step ahead of the counterfeiters. The Secret Service maintains a working relationship with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Federal Reserve System to ensure the integrity of our currency. Visit the website at U.S. Secret Service – Counterfeit Division.

A Private Investigator’s Role

A private investigator’s role in investigating counterfeit products involves gathering information and evidence about the production, distribution, and sale of fake or unauthorized goods. Here are some key aspects of their role in this context:


Private investigators may monitor locations suspected of producing or selling counterfeit products. This could involve observing manufacturing facilities, retail outlets, or online marketplaces where such goods are sold.

Undercover Operations

PIs may go undercover to infiltrate networks involved in counterfeiting. This could include posing as potential buyers or employees to gather information on the individuals and organizations behind the production and distribution of counterfeit goods.

Intellectual Property Investigations

Private investigators often work closely with intellectual property lawyers and rights holders to gather evidence of trademark or copyright infringement. This may involve researching patents, trademarks, and copyrights to identify violations.

Supply Chain Analysis

Investigating the supply chain is crucial in understanding how counterfeit products enter the market. PIs may trace the origin of materials, identify manufacturing processes, and determine the routes through which these products are distributed.

Interviews and Interrogations

Private investigators may interview individuals with information about the counterfeit operation. This could include former employees, suppliers, or anyone who knows the illicit activities.

Evidence Collection

Gathering concrete evidence is a critical aspect of an investigator’s role. This may involve documenting the counterfeit products, collecting samples, and securing evidence for legal proceedings.

Cooperation with Authorities

Private investigators often collaborate with law enforcement agencies and regulatory bodies to share information and support their efforts in combating counterfeiting. This collaboration can enhance the overall effectiveness of the investigation.

Report Compilation

PIs compile detailed reports summarizing their findings. These reports are valuable for clients, legal proceedings, and law enforcement agencies. They may include photographic evidence, witness statements, and other relevant information.

Test Purchases

Private investigators may make test purchases of suspected counterfeit products to verify their authenticity. These purchases can provide valuable evidence and insights into the distribution channels.

Court Testimony

Private investigators may sometimes be called upon to testify in court regarding their findings. Their testimony can help establish the facts of the case and support legal actions against those involved in counterfeiting.

It’s important to note that the specific tasks a private investigator undertakes may vary depending on the nature and scope of the counterfeit operation and the client’s objectives. Additionally, their work should always adhere to legal and ethical standards.

Resources to Help Consumers

The website Counterfeit Detection will help you determine if those colorful pieces of paper are worth the printed paper, whether it is Dollars, Pounds, Euros, .etc. All banknotes are produced similarly and result in a similar set of characteristics. They also have security measures built into them, which make them difficult to reproduce. However, it is impossible to produce a counterfeit-proof anything, and there will always be individuals producing fakes.

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including Michael created more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at


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