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A counterfeit is the fraudulent copy of money, documents, designer pieces, or other valuable items. The counterfeiter often provides these goods to others with an intent to defraud. If a person pays for goods or services with counterfeit money, they could be charged through federal and state laws.  

18 U.S. Code § 471 is a federal statute that states that a person can be fined and/or imprisoned for up to 20 years if they counterfeit a security of the United States with intent to defraud. States have their own laws for possession of counterfeit items. For example, California’s Penal Code 475 PC makes possession of a counterfeit item a misdemeanor or felony with a possibility of up to 3 years of jail time. But like 18 U.S. Code § 471, the government has to prove the person had intent to defraud another person. The defendant is able to put on a defense that they did not have knowledge the counterfeit item was a counterfeit and therefore, didn’t intend to defraud. 

[Last updated in June of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team