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In simple terms, counterfeiting is the production of phony goods, or replicas of real products. If you are accused, you will need a seasoned counterfeiting attorney to help with your case.


Counterfeiting is a serious crime that can ultimately end in lengthy jail sentences, astronomical fines, and a permanent criminal record. It is also high stakes because of the complex nature of counterfeiting laws- they can come from the federal level, state level, or some combination thereof. The application of these laws will also depend on the types of currency, document, or items that were counterfeited.

What Is Counterfeiting?

In simple terms, counterfeiting is the production of phony goods, or replicas of real products. This often refers to fake money, checks, passports, vital records, or merchandise like designer shoes and handbags. Any documents, records, or currency that have been counterfeited are prosecuted under counterfeit and forgery laws, while products are usually under fraud and trademark laws.

All forms of counterfeiting are federal offenses with varying levels of severity.

  • Counterfeiting of Money: This is the most common form of counterfeiting and is defined as making fake money and/or knowingly attempt to use it as actual currency. Real currency is produced by the government and backed by the government, where fake money is not backed at all and is therefore worthless. Attempting to exchange this “money” for goods or services is therefore considered an attempt to steal those goods and services.
  • Counterfeiting of Documents: Forging important documents is illegal and considered similar to counterfeiting currency in that the documents have no backing and are worthless. Forging documents such as bonds, federal contracts, public records, or even postal stamps can all lead to counterfeiting charges. In addition, if the documents are used to obtain money, goods, or employment, you can be charged with fraud by other organizations.
  • Counterfeiting of Goods: Goods is a broad term and can include anything from jewelry to artwork. These charges become more serious when the production of counterfeit goods infringes on a trademark. This is commonly done when copies of brand-name items are made, like purses, that still use the logo in an attempt to disguise the product as genuine.
    Federal Counterfeiting Laws

Certain items are protected under U.S. law, including:

  • Bonds
  • National bank currency
  • Federal Reserve notes and banknotes
  • Treasury notes
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Bills
  • Checks
  • Stamps

Because these are protected at the federal level, exchanges that occur over state lines and become interstate commerce can be prosecuted easily.

Under federal law, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 471, anyone found guilty of counterfeiting is subject to significant fines and up to 20 years in prison. In order to be found guilty, the counterfeited item must be substantially similar to the legitimate and lawful version.

Georgia Counterfeiting Laws

In the state of Georgia, there are four levels of forgery that include counterfeiting, all of which require a basis of “intent to defraud.”

  • Forgery in the First or Second Degree: This is when a person knowingly makes, alters, or possesses any writing in a fictitious name, other than a check. This excludes currencies and focuses on misrepresentation on documents. In order to be considered first degree, there must be an uttering or delivering of the writing. Second-degree forgery is the same but does not require the writing to be presented or delivered.
  • Forgery in the Third Degree: Third-degree forgery occurs when a person makes, alters, possesses, utters, or delivers any check written in the amount of $1,500 or more in a fictitious name or manner. It also applies if over ten checks have been altered or faked regardless of the amount. This is a felony and requires a prison term of one to five years.
  • Forgery in the Fourth Degree: When any check is made, altered, possessed, uttered, or delivered for under $1,500, it is considered fourth-degree forgery. Ten or fewer checks in any amount can also fall into the category. Depending on prior convictions, this can be a misdemeanor or a felony in the state of Georgia.

Counterfeiting Penalties

Federal law has multiple provisions that allow for fines up to $250,000 for a money counterfeiting conviction, as well as a prison sentence of up to 20 years for counterfeiting U.S. obligations and securities. Counterfeiting of foreign obligations and securities within the United States have the same penalties, and possession of plates, stones, or other items used in the production of counterfeit foreign obligations carry a maximum of 25 years in prison. If the crimes result in a financial gain or loss to someone besides the defendant, they can be fined up to double the $250,000 maximum as well as the amount gained or lost.

If a defendant has put parts of multiple notes together to create a fraudulent note, they face up to ten years in prison, while someone guilty of counterfeiting gold or silver or coins above 5 cents faces up to 15 years.

Where both state and federal convictions occur, sentences may be combined or stacked, resulting in longer sentences in order to meet both jurisdiction’s penalties.

Defense in Counterfeiting Cases

If you find yourself accused of counterfeiting or forgery, you may be intimidated by the harsh penalties and federal nature of the crimes. However, you are always afforded reasonable doubt and the government must prove that you are guilty. An experienced counterfeiting defense attorney will be able to evaluate the evidence and create a case to prove your innocence. While the details will vary based on your situation, some common defense strategies are employed.

  • Lack of intent: A crucial piece of counterfeiting is that the defendant intended to pass off something fake as its real counterpart. If you did not intend for someone to believe the item was real, it is not considered counterfeiting under the law. For example, artists will often practice their craft by recreating classic pieces. If you did this and did not intend to pass it off as an original, this is not a crime.
  • Lack of knowledge: If you didn’t know your money was counterfeit, you are not liable for having used it. For example, if a friend offers to break a large bill for you and gives you counterfeit money, you may continue to use it as you would real currency. At the store, a cashier may recognize the bills and call the police. Because you were unaware, you would not have committed a crime by attempting to use the money.
  • Lack of evidence: In any trial, the prosecution must present enough evidence to prove you are guilty of a crime. This is no different when the crime is counterfeiting. A good defense attorney will be able to discredit unreliable evidence and show a lack of enough evidence for conviction.

Your attorney will also examine whether all the proper protocol was followed during your arrest, including being read your Miranda rights, being granted access to an attorney, and use of any valid warrants needed for searches.

If you are involved in a court case involving counterfeiting or forgery, retaining a skilled defense attorney will be the most important thing you do to maintain your freedom and avoid harsh penalties. Be sure to always disclose all truthful information to your attorney so they can make the best case possible for you during trial.

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