I remember reading a short story which involved a man trying to smuggle a large quantity of dollars out of USSR.

The soviet agents detain him at a border crossing, search all of his belongings, but fail to find anything. When he is questioned, he says that he showed the money to an embassy worker, who told him that all of the money is counterfeit, and he burned all of the money.

Later, the P.o.V character, the investigator, realizes that the man intentionally burned all the money in front of embassy workers, who witnessed it, and provided signed affidavits and other paperwork that money was destroyed (the story is lax in the details as to which exact paperwork was made), and he intended to use those documents to get replacement dollars from the treasury.

Could this story have been true? Are there laws that allowed for this kind of trick to be done?

  • 1
    If the point was to have "documents" in place of the currency, and the embassy was so cooperative, why didn't they just take the money and write him a check? Jun 29, 2021 at 16:04
  • @NateEldredge I suspect the writer may have applied The Rule of Cool, mailing a cheque is just so... mundane Jun 29, 2021 at 16:27

2 Answers 2


There's some artistic license in play there - the US Treasury will replace damaged (or "mutilated" as they call it) currency for free under certain conditions.

Lawful holders of mutilated currency may receive a redemption at full value when:

(1) Clearly more than 50% of a note identifiable as United States currency is present, along with sufficient remnants of any relevant security feature; or

(2) 50% or less of a note identifiable as United States currency is present and the method of mutilation and supporting evidence demonstrate to the satisfaction of the BEP that the missing portions have been totally destroyed.

From your description they fail the first condition - they've burned it all so they aren't presenting > 50% of a note, 0% is clearly less than 50% [citation needed] and they also fail the second condition as it doesn't seem that they are carrying any "identifiable" portion of the money.


No redemption will be made when:

(1) A submission, or any portion thereof, demonstrates a pattern of intentional mutilation or an attempt to defraud the United States. In such instances, the entire submission will be destroyed or retained as evidence.

The "mutilation" was clearly intentional in this case.


(4) Fragments and remnants presented are not identifiable as United States currency.

Seems to reiterate that you have to present some identifiable remnants.

I suppose if the Embassy worker was a Bureau of Engraving and Printing representative, or the affidavits they provided were sufficient to convince the BEP that currency of x value was present, and completely destroyed etc. then the only hurdle would be the "intentional mutilation" aspect.

The "intentional mutilation" itself is illegal under 18 U.S. Code § 333:

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.

  • Zero is less than 50% :-) Jun 29, 2021 at 16:05

In addition, as mentioned in the page on "Mutilated Currency Redemption" there will also be no replacement when

(2) A submission appears to be part of, or intended to further, any criminal scheme. In such instances, the entire submission will be destroyed or retained as evidence.

At attempt to evade foreign currency regulations would probably count as a "criminal scheme". If so, and if the government knew of the purpose, there would be no replacement.

However all of the above, and all of the answer by user motosubatsu deals with damaged or mutilated currency. If the money was in fact counterfeit, then different rules apply.

18 U.S. Code § 492 provides that:

All counterfeits of any coins or obligations or other securities of the United States or of any foreign government, or any articles, devices, and other things made, possessed, or used in violation of this chapter or of sections 331–333, 335, 336, 642 or 1720, of this title, or any material or apparatus used or fitted or intended to be used, in the making of such counterfeits, articles, devices or things, found in the possession of any person without authority from the Secretary of the Treasury or other proper officer, shall be forfeited to the United States.

Whenever, except as hereinafter in this section provided, any person interested in any article, device, or other thing, or material or apparatus seized under this section files with the Secretary of the Treasury, before the disposition thereof, a petition for the remission or mitigation of such forfeiture, the Secretary of the Treasury, if he finds that such forfeiture was incurred without willful negligence or without any intention on the part of the petitioner to violate the law, or finds the existence of such mitigating circumstances as to justify the remission or the mitigation of such forfeiture, may remit or mitigate the same upon such terms and conditions as he deems reasonable and just.

Thus counterfeit money is seized. My understanding is that even when a person accepted counterfeit money not knowing it to be counterfeit, the government does not normally replace it, but I cannot support that with a source beyond the test of 18 USC § 492 which seems to leave it up to the judgement of the US Secretary of the Treasury.

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    I assumed in the story that the claim about the money being counterfeit was a lie. Jun 29, 2021 at 17:02
  • @Nate Eldredge That could well be, the question does not make it clear, so I added the info for completeness. But thst would reinforce the "criminal scheme" determination i would think. Jun 29, 2021 at 17:04
  • While the story never explicitly states that the dollars were not counterfeit, it heavily implies that they in fact were not, and he lied to soviet agents. Jun 30, 2021 at 8:02

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