I've been reading that in the US there's a thing where certain kinds of people leave fake bills with just a corner showing just the dollar amount and the rest hidden under a napkin or peeking out of the check holder, but upon closer inspection turns out to be not real money. Such fake bills contain christian-adjacent texts which read things to the effect of "Jesus's love is more important than money".

I don't think anyone can tell for sure if any such person who leaves these fake bills does it as a way to propagate their religious beliefs, or to be a cheapskate with an "excuse", but the bottom line is they're leaving fake bills instead of real bills, and it's not cool to the servers.

Some say that the Secret Service will only investigate if the bills appear to be at least not obviously fake in full view, but the way these bills are used, only the real-looking portion is left in the open until the server comes over to collect them.

Is such use of "Jesus money" illegal? Can servers (or managers) of restaurants call the police on the customers for doing that?

  • I'm not based in the US or Europe, so I suppose the question is multinational, if that's allowed. Aug 20, 2017 at 20:57
  • Well it's still theft if the person took food without paying for it which is definitely illegal. The information you seem to have found is probably just saying that the government won't investigate it for counterfeitting because only a part of it is designed to look like a bill, not the entire thing. It's not a counterfeit bill in the eyes of the law. Theft is the responsibility of local law enforcement to investigate.
    – animuson
    Aug 20, 2017 at 21:11
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    The cases I see mentioned which get conflicting opinions about specifically say that the main part of the bill is paid in real money, but the tip (which is arguably optional and may or may not be considered theft) is left in such fake bills. Aug 20, 2017 at 21:12
  • Then there's nothing for anyone to do. Tips are not required, and the government has stated that it's not counterfeitting. Someone leaving a religious note is no different than not leaving anything at all in the eyes of the law.
    – animuson
    Aug 20, 2017 at 21:14
  • @user1306322 is the "Jesus money" paying for the restraunt meal or just the tip portion of the restraunt meal. The title looks like you're referring to the tip where the content is more general. Aug 20, 2017 at 22:10

4 Answers 4


If only the tip is left in such "fake" money, it would not be theft as there is no legal obligation to leave a tip at all (except in those establishments that add a tip or "service charge' to the bill.) If the "money" is not an attempt to imitate real cash, it wouldn't be counterfeiting (leaving monopoly money for example would not be counterfeiting). The server would be understandably angry. The restaurant might refuse to seat the people who left the "fake" another time, if the servers identified them to the manager, but nothing would require them to do so.

This is all on a US basis, I have no idea if tips might be legally required in other countries.


There is no legal obligation to pay tips — pretty much like no laws oblige people to be civilized and nice.

No law breaking — no basis for calling cops.


Not paying for a meal, by leaving fake money rather than real money, is theft and a crime. Therefore, it is appropriate to report the crime to police just at it would be if the patrons had "dined and dashed" without even leaving fake money.

Realistically, in the absence of security video, it may be virtually impossible to apprehend the perpetrators based on the report. But, a police report would substantiate the incident if it happened again, so, if the perpetrators were identified by waitstaff before they fled and were either detained in a citizens arrest or discouraged from leaving in a manner that allowed police to arrive an apprehend them, they could be arrested later.

This would not be counterfeiting in most countries since it isn't really trying to make coins or currency that pass as the real thing, just plain old theft.

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    Right, but what about when only the tip is left in fake bills, but the meal portion of the check is paid properly? Aug 20, 2017 at 21:18
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    Then, it is merely rude and the restaurant should ban them from the restaurant going forward for their gall.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 20, 2017 at 21:19
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    The way to conceptualize it is that tips weren't paid at all, not that tips were paid but that the bills were fake. Leaving fake bills that are obviously fake like that is really the same as leaving nothing at all but a rude message.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 20, 2017 at 21:25
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    Tips are, by definition, optional. Always.
    – Upnorth
    Aug 20, 2017 at 22:54
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    @RubelliteFae No.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 11, 2018 at 3:51

As was explained in other answers, there will be no prosecution if they paid tips with fake money. But you don't know that, do you? You are not a lawyer who knows the details of what constitutes fake money and what doesn't?

So I'd say you treat that like you would treat fake money: You hold them and call the police. There's even a chance that you would get a police officer who is a devout Christian and gives them a free lecture about what is and what isn't Christian behaviour.

@Swizzler. You say they can't do anything. I say they can call the cops - and if you read the headline of the question, that was "can I call the cops". If something happens that you believe is a crime, you can call the cops. Whether you are right or not.

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    What a bad answer. If the bills are obviously fake and left as extra, not to pay any open bills, you can't do anything. Same if they pay everything and then pass you monopoly-money with a smirk and tell you "for your efford". Its rude at best but not illegal.
    – user9886
    Jul 14, 2018 at 13:48
  • "But you don't know that, do you?" - That's why they are asking! You're wasting the police's time if you call them for this.
    – D M
    Jul 14, 2018 at 14:18
  • @DM whether it is truly wasting police time depends on the jurisdiction and whether they have something better to do. In some small towns, they might appreciate the distraction.
    – phoog
    Jul 14, 2018 at 18:34
  • @Swizzler I think the point is that your average restaurant manager, in the moment, doesn't necessarily know whether the money might violate some law, and would therefore be justified in calling the police.
    – phoog
    Jul 14, 2018 at 18:36
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    Seriously. I don't how you can get to 9,000 reputation points without figuring out how to read beyond the literal phrasing of a question and answer the real question instead.
    – bdb484
    Jul 15, 2018 at 6:22

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