What I Learned from My Time as a Secret Service Trainer

Close-up of 10 dollar bill

Television makes everything look quick and easy. Thanks to the help of forensic evidence, TV detectives always catch the bad guys in less than an hour, with time to spare for commercial breaks. For most people television is just entertainment, not job training. Nobody watches crime dramas to learn how to dust for fingerprints, examine bullets, test drug samples or conduct any of the other serious forensic work that crime laboratories perform.

However, there is one forensic examination that millions of people perform on a daily basis without even knowing it. Cashiers, tellers and others that deal with money identify counterfeit bills. Big losses are at stake - the U.S. Secret Service recovered more than $154 million worth of fake cash in fiscal year 2011 alone. The most effective step that businesses can take to avoid being victimized by this crime is to provide effective employee training. But exactly what is effective training? (Here’s a hint: the approach Chris Tucker took in the movie Rush Hour 2 – lighting money on fire to see if it’s fake - is always a bad idea.)

Who am I to tell you about counterfeit detection training? If you mention the U.S. Secret Service, most people only think of the president's bodyguards - but the U.S. Secret Service also combats currency counterfeiting. For years I was a forensic scientist at the U.S. Secret Service headquarters crime lab, where the buck stops if it's counterfeit. A lot of fake cash crossed my desk, but I also taught many counterfeit detection courses to widely diverse audiences, from bankers in Beijing to tellers in Thailand to cops in Quito. Here are the top three lessons I learned from my time as an international counterfeit detection trainer:

Show Them the Money – And not just real cash - fakes, too. Use practical exercises that train learners how to tell real from fake when money is on the line. Hanging a poster by the cash register and hoping your employees will pause to read it isn’t enough, because simply having access to information doesn't cause skill development. That's why my Counterfeit Currency Detection for Banks, Retail and Small Business training is interactive and emphasizes counterfeit detection exercises.

Know the Learner's Needs – Training shouldn't be developed with a “one size fits all” mindset . A cashier working in a big box store under bright, fluorescent lights can benefit from training on counterfeit detection techniques that work well in bright areas. Meanwhile, a bartender working in a dark, smoky atmosphere needs to know how to spot a fake in the dark. Situations like this are why Ultraviolet Lights and Counterfeit Detection training was born, because counterfeit detection cannot be defined simply as a single problem with a single solution that's right for all learners.

Show the Learner WHY – Counterfeit detection pens remain popular among businesses that handle cash, even though the U.S. Secret Service does not recommend them and they're just not reliable. But old habits die hard. Organizations that want to encourage employees to stop relying on pens can supplement basic security feature training with Counterfeit Detection Pens: The Facts. Employees will wonder why they're being asked to change. That's why this course utilizes a series of demonstrations about how counterfeit detection pens can make mistakes that help learners to really internalize the data behind the message, and not just the message itself.

The material that I expected Secret Service agents to master was far more rigorous than the training that's right for a cashier or teller. But does that mean the instructional techniques should also be different? The basics of training design that delivered results when I trained U.S. Secret Service agents have helped me to produce effective, affordable, real-time, on-demand e-learning courses that provide scalable counterfeit detection training for thousands of employees in a way never possible before. Try the courses out for yourself for a serious look at counterfeit detection. Afterwards, feel free to go watch Rush Hour 2 - just remember to take it with a grain of salt!