In many countries it is illegal to deface or destroy money, but has this law ever been enforced? (note: I'm not asking about counterfeiting)

Have there been any notable cases of people being charged or jailed in the past 50 years?

One thing that comes to mind was the KLF's Burn a Million Quid:

K Foundation Burn a Million Quid was an action that took place on 23 August 1994, in which the K Foundation (an art duo consisting of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty) burned cash in the amount of one million pounds sterling on the Scottish island of Jura.

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    What is the claim here? Is it notable?
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 8:13
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    @Sklivvz - It's quite common for people to say don't draw on money because its illegal, but if it is so illegal, why hasn't anyone been charged?
    – going
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 8:44
  • You need to look at counterfeiting charges it happens there quite regularly(as regularly as counterfieters go anyway which isnt very). People wash the ink from a 1 or 5 and then print a 20 or 100 on the paper. Police have discretion what the charge and even investigate. And since in the US this is a federal crime it falls to the secret service(Department of the Treasury). There is little to be gained by investigating doodles or stamps on bills that do not change the overal. So long as the defacement does not intend to commit fraud its just let go.
    – Chad
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 20:42
  • Argh, I remember this case, but can't find a reference :-( In the early 1990s, the then Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating obliged a request from a member of the public and autographed two bank-notes (which were of a new design he found objectionable). There were inevitable calls for him to be arrested and lose his job. The press, at the time, described a precedent where a man had been using a stamp to put a protest message on notes. Importantly, he kept doing it after he was asked to stop. The man was charged and found guilty. No proof, so this is a comment....
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 23, 2011 at 16:28
  • you may find more examples as you go down further in history, where such laws afaik originated (as contrary to counterfeiting laws) to make possible legal action against damaging the image of a king or queen on coins for political purposes. Can't remember sources, but this used to be the case in some European countries maybe as far back as the Roman era.
    – jwenting
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 12:44

2 Answers 2


Yes. In Australia in 2005.

This was reported in the Sunshine Coast Daily

Defacing bank notes costs $500

23rd March 2005

Damien John Lebret pleaded guilty to twice defacing 10 paper money notes with a black felt tip pen before depositing his rent money into an account at ANZ Bank at Kawana Waters last month.


The Crimes (Currency) Act 1981 provides for a maximum $5000 penalty or two years in jail for wilfully defacing coins or paper money.

Magistrate Ken Taylor said he needed to issue a penalty reflecting the seriousness of Mr Lebrets conduct and fined him $500.

Mr Lebret opted to convert the fine to 34 hours community service.

  • It seems this was likely the process crime that the antisocial act violated. It probably was not so much about the actual defacement, but what was written.
    – Chad
    Commented Aug 23, 2011 at 20:06
  • He was charged under the Crimes (Currency) Act 1981. What he wrote probably motivated the prosecutors to take it more seriously, but he wasn't (merely?) charged with offensive behaviour.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 2:54
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    Exactly. It is going after the crime you can charge since its not illegal to be a jerk.
    – Chad
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 13:54
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    @Chad, sure. I imagine prosecutors is most jurisdictions would not want to be bothered with solitary cases of people using a thumbtack to attach a note to pin-board, even if it is a crime. It would take some sort of more serious circumstances for them to spend the money to enforce this law. In the (uncited) case I mentioned earlier, the protester was doing stamping messages on notes repeatedly, even after being warned to stop.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 23:31

Not in the USA for Coins, many places like Six Flags, Sea World have machines that will deface pennies to imprint their logo on them, it is only against the law if done to commit fraud,

See Title 18, Part 1, chapter 17, 331

Whoever fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the mints of the United States, or any foreign coins which are by law made current or are in actual use or circulation as money within the United States; or Whoever fraudulently possesses, passes, utters, publishes, or sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish, or sell, or brings into the United States, any such coin, knowing the same to be altered, defaced, mutilated, impaired, diminished, falsified, scaled, or lightened— Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

Similar law for Debasement of Coins Title 18, Part 1, chapter17, 332

If any of the gold or silver coins struck or coined at any of the mints of the United States shall be debased, or made worse as to the proportion of fine gold or fine silver therein contained, or shall be of less weight or value than the same ought to be, pursuant to law, or if any of the scales or weights used at any of the mints or assay offices of the United States shall be defaced, altered, increased, or diminished through the fault or connivance of any officer or person employed at the said mints or assay offices, with a fraudulent intent; or if any such officer or person shall embezzle any of the metals at any time committed to his charge for the purpose of being coined, or any of the coins struck or coined at the said mints, or any medals, coins, or other moneys of said mints or assay offices at any time committed to his charge, or of which he may have assumed the charge, every such officer or person who commits any of the said offenses shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

Paper notes on the other hand appear to be illegal to render them "unfit to be reissued" Title 18, Part 1, chapter 17, 333 It appears the Feds are the only ones allowed to destroy Notes.

Whoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or 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, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

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    Only answers the U.S., and the question is pretty clearly meant to cover more than one country. Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 4:36
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    Also, I'm not after the laws, I'm looking for examples of it being enforced. Thanks.
    – going
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 5:09
  • @xiao: then it seems to me your question is not about notable claim (this Moab has answered), buther rather a curiosity one. Moreover asking "why" about human behaviour is most often a motivation question, which is explicitely off topic here.
    – Suma
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 11:44
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    @Suma - I don't recall asking a why question, I asked if. I want to know if it ever happened, because it is common to hear people mention that its illegal every time you see a defaced note.
    – going
    Commented Aug 13, 2011 at 3:04
  • @ xiaohouzi79, you have to know what the law is, might explain why no one has been arrested in a particular country. you should define your question better.
    – Moab
    Commented Aug 13, 2011 at 15:04

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