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Is It Illegal to Write on Money?

is it illegal to write on money

Many people assume that writing on paper money is inappropriate. Many of them assume that it’s illegal to write on money — but it’s not. Writing on money isn’t necessarily illegal, but there are restrictions in place to keep the money circulating.

In this article, we’ll dive into what the law says about writing on money and whether it’s completely legal to do so. We’ll also discuss other things that might or might not be illegal in terms of money usage. Let’s dig in!

What the US Law Says about writing on money

Under the US Code, writing on money doesn’t exactly mean you’ll get arrested. You’ll only be violating the law when you deface currency and render it unusable. Under Title 18, Section 333 of the Code:

“Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Research System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

While it may sound vague at first, writing on money isn’t necessarily covered under defacement. Situations in which the writing on money doesn’t render it useless are okay: you won’t get in trouble.

However, if you deliberately draw over a bill to make it appear as if it’s another bill of greater value — from $1 to $100, for example — this will give you trouble. That is a way to make it illegal to write on money pretty quickly.

When it comes to advertisement, though, certain restrictions should be observed. Writing a URL of a blog or article on the sidelines of the bill, for instance, might annoy people who’ll use the money. However, it doesn’t render the bill useless.

But if you write lengthy messages of advertisement that obscure the money, then that might count as defacement.

Advertisement, here, is an important keyword: using legal tender to advertise a business by writing on bills is a violation of Title 18, Section 333, which also states:

”Whoever . . . writes, prints, or otherwise impresses upon . . . any coin or currency of the United States, any business or professional card, notice, or advertisement, or any notice or advertisement whatever, shall be fined under this title.”

What the Canadian Law Says

The Bank of Canada doesn’t prohibit people from writing on banknotes. However, they highly discourage people from doing so, as the practice limits the usability of such money.

On top of that, the BoC “feels that writing and markings on bank notes are inappropriate as they are a symbol of our country and a source of national pride,” according to Josianne Menard, a bank spokeswoman.

Apart from that, the BoC advises that retailers and stores may refrain from accepting bills that have been written on, either via “Spocking” or other methods. This ultimately shortens the bill’s lifespan.

Meanwhile, Canadian laws are stricter when it comes to coins and what people can do to them. According to the Currency Act, for example, melting Canadian coins will get you in legal trouble.

Section 11 of the Currency Act states:

“(1) No person shall, except in accordance with a license granted by the Minister, melt down, break up, or use otherwise than as a currency any coin that is current and legal tender in Canada.

(2) Every person who contravenes subsection (1) or any condition attached to a license referred to in that subsection is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $250 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both.”

What’s Illegal with money?

While laws around the world are somehow lenient when it comes to writing on money, they’re also strict when it comes to other illegal things you can do with money. The following are the crimes that you should avoid getting involved in:


Counterfeiting money is universally illegal. The Federal Criminal Code also makes “forging a variety of items, including currency, securities, postage stamps, license plates, legal documents and more” a crime.

Counterfeiting money is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The statutes also apply to dealing, processing, and passing fraudulent documents and money.

Meanwhile, to convict someone of counterfeiting money, the prosecutor must prove criminal intent, or that the defendant acted intending to defraud. In other words, the person in question should prove that they were unaware that the money was counterfeit at the time of its usage.

Money Laundering

Another more serious crime than money defacement is money laundering, which is the concealment of the existence and origin of money obtained through illegal means. Criminals use money laundering to make their ill-gotten money look legitimate. Common forms of money laundering include smuggling cash offshore and depositing in foreign banks and then wiring it to a local one.

Money laundering is punishable with a 20-year statutory maximum sentence under criminal law. Meanwhile, to prove that the defendant is guilty of money laundering, the prosecutor must prove the following:

  • The defendant has engaged in a financial transaction
  • The defendant knows the assets come are proceeds of illegal activity
  • The money has come from illegal activities, such as fraud, bribery, and others.
  • The defendant had the intent to promote or conceal the illegal activity.

Tax Evasion and Fraud

Tax evasion is a crime under internal revenue authorities, and the most common of its forms is filing false returns that underreport income or overstate deductions. Evasion of payment occurs when tax deficiency is established, and it’s committed when a person or entity tries to hide assets so that the revenue authority cannot access them.

To be convicted of tax fraud, there must be a willful attempt to evade the payment of owed taxes. However, merely failing to file an income tax return isn’t a felony. It only becomes fraud when combined with any of the following:

  • Filing a false tax withholding statement
  • Diversion of corporate funds for tax payments to personal uses
  • Concealment of bank accounts or assets to make them less visible to the revenue authority
  • Structuring transactions to avoid reporting requirements to evade the revenue authority

Tax evasion is no joke. For more articles on how to stay on the good side of the law, visit our latest posts!

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