Twenty Poond notes: investigation after an ATM dispensed toy money

The Yorkshire building society is to investigate how two fake £20 notes were issued by a cash machine outside its Lancaster branch.

The investigation was prompted after the Guardian’s media editor, Jim Waterson, and a friend tried to use the cash to pay for breakfast in a London cafe last weekend. The waiter refused to accept the notes – which bear the words “Twenty Poond” on the reverse side and said they were “obviously fake”. Waterson’s friend had received the notes among £80 she had withdrawn from an ATM at the Lancaster branch of the Yorkshire the previous weekend.

“My friend got the cash out and didn’t think twice – after all, who closely examines banknotes when they come out of a high street ATM? But when we looked at them more closely we noticed it says Twenty Poond on them. It looks as though they were designed to be used in theatres, or as toys. It even states on them “This note is play money”,” says Waterson.

Counterfeit £20 notes are sold in bulk on the black market for around £8 each and can easily end up in the wallets of unsuspecting shoppers.

Notes the same as those uncovered are for sale on eBay, listed as Party, Realistic Prop Money with the warning NOT FOR USE. They are sold in bundles of 10 notes for £14.99.

In recent months, police have been warning retailers and shoppers to be on their guard against accepting skilfully faked £20 notes.

The Yorkshire building society confirmed that the contractor that operates the affected cash machine on its behalf is investigating the matter.

“Our cash machines are operated by a third-party supplier and are not under control of the colleagues within the branch. Anyone who suspects the notes received from one of our cash machines are forged should hand these in as soon as possible to their local branch to seek an exchange and have these notes taken out of circulation.”

Staff at both the Lancaster branch and the cash machine provider, Notemachine, said they had not received any other complaints about fake notes.

While some cash machines in convenience stores are loaded by the store owner, official ATMs in banks are operated and filled by security staff.

A spokesman for Link, which manages the UK’s ATM network, said this was likely to be a case of “human error somewhere in the system”.