You need to look sharp and know the ropes if you do not want someone to slip you a counterfeit note.

Some days ago, I was paying my bill at a drive-in restaurant in Coimbatore. The man at the counter handed me my change and I noticed at once that one of the Rs. 100 notes had a strange look.

For one thing, the colour was lighter than that of the usual note and some of the security features seemed to be missing. It was a note that seemed to be in mint condition.

"There's something wrong with this note," I told the counter clerk. I handed the note back and asked for another in exchange.

"There's nothing wrong with it," he said at first and claimed that one of the waiters had brought it to the cash counter. The waiter was summoned and the note returned. He too, seemed to think there was nothing wrong with it.

"There's no security thread," I pointed out.

"Yes, there is one," he said, holding the note up to the light. A black line was visible.

"The security thread should be thick and green, and it should be partly hidden and partly visble on the note," I began, determined that I would not settle for what looked, at least to me, like a counterfeit note. Needless to say, I got a genuine note in exchange.

More recently, one of the Rs. 100 notes that I received at the cash counter of a bank seemed to have the last digit either scratched away or tampered with. Back went the note and the bank officer handed me a genuine note in exchange.

I have been on the lookout for counterfeit notes ever since a friendly cashier at a hotel I frequented several years ago showed me a counterfeit Rs. 10 note. It looked more like a photocopy of a note than the genuine article, but seemed to have deceived several people.

At that time began my search to learn about the security features of currency notes, so that there would be a lesser chance of my being cheated.

For one thing, it literally pays to count currency as often as possible, in order to become familiar with the feel of genuine notes. Counterfeit notes are sometimes thinner or thicker than the genuine notes.

Then, there is the intaglio printing (raised print) in features such as the Mahatma's portrait, Reserve Bank of India seal, Ashoka Pillar emblem, signature of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and guarantee clause.

To help visually impaired people, there are symbols in raised print that can usually be identified by touch, though with some difficulty, by the rest of us. There is a square for Rs.50, a triangle for Rs.100, a circle for Rs.500 and a diamond for Rs.1000.

While the watermark image is perhaps the most familiar identification for a genuine banknote, the 'latent image' is quite difficult to spot in the vertical band on the right hand side of the front side of a note.

The latent image can be seen only by holding the note horizontally near the eyes, tilting it towards or away from the light and trying to see a pattern where there seems to be none. The theory is that the denominational value should appear.

However, the feature I like best is the 'see through register' on the left side. Hold it up to the light and the denomination of the note appears.

"What should I do if I get a conterfeit note?" is a question that is usually answered with another question, "Where did you get the note?"

After asking around, I found that there were three schools of thought about what would happen if you handed over a counterfeit note across a bank counter.

The first is that the bank officer would break the bad news to you and tear up the note there and then.

The second is that the cashier will march you off to the police station to lodge a first information report, so that the grilling by the police can begin.

The third school of thought says that the cashier will accept the note, give you credit for the exchange value, but keep the note aside so that it can be thoroughly checked later and sent to the police if found to be counterfeit.

So, next time you hand me a currency note and I pull out my magnifying glass and ultraviolet torch, do not be surprised. I'm just checking. After all, who knows what a counterfeiter or one who has been cheated by a counterfeiter really looks like!

Keywords: moneycounterfeitpolice