And with increasing reports of fake bills turning up on a near daily basis, authorities are warning citizens and businesses to pay closer attention to the money they come across.
Rome detective Jeff Richerson has been working on the recent string of counterfeit occurrences and said that they have noticed the upswing in activity. “We have seen more reports than usual and have made several arrests in the last few weeks.”
Richerson said it is hard to find a single source of counterfeit money but they are working to try and stop the problem locally. “We are getting several reports a week and have had cases that lead us to believe that some of the counterfeit money is coming from the same source,” Richerson said. “We just don’t know what that is yet.”
Police are following leads but they advise that they are seeing all denominations and have had them show up everywhere, from convenience stores to restaurants and retail stores.
While the fake bills have shown up mostly in these public places, citizens are warned that they could begin to be distributed through private channels such as yard sales as the problem continues.
“A lot of people who wind up with counterfeit money don’t know that they have it,” Richerson said. “Those who obtain the bills by legitimate means are asked to call the police so that we can take them out of circulation.”
One extreme case involved a man trying to purchase a money order at a local convenience store with $220 worth of fake $20 bills. All of them shared the same three serial numbers.
Charles Stevenson was the clerk on duty at the Kangaroo Express on Shorter Avenue where the suspect tried to pass 11 fake $20 bills on Oct. 11. He said that after the first two bills he marked with the store’s counterfeit detector pen showed up fake he knew he had to call the police immediately.
“I think if someone got one fake bill by mistake then you tell them you have to call the police and ask if they’ll stay until they arrive,” Stevenson said. “But in that situation I knew I had to call the police as fast as I could.”
After seeing that Stevenson had discovered the money was counterfeit, the suspect ran out of the store and rode away in a vehicle driven by another man.
“We try to use the same preventive measures that are provided to everyone else,” Stevenson said. “We’ve had some who are more than willing to stay while we call police, especially if they know exactly where they got the bill from.”
Richerson said employees who handle money on a regular basis should pay attention to the bills they are given and make sure they check one of the many security features that are on bills printed in the last 20 years.
These include the thin security thread that is embedded in each bill and the watermark of the portrait featured on the bill.
The case of the 11 counterfeit $20 bills illustrates that if someone pays with a large number of the same type of bill it could also be a clue that at least one if not all of them could be fake.
For some who are very familiar with cash, the texture of a bill and even the size of it can be giveaways to the fact that it is fake.
But with the interjection of technology on both the side of the government and the side of criminals, it’s getting harder to tell if money is counterfeit.
“The truth is the marking pens are not fool-proof,” Rome detective Randy Gore said. “They don’t work in all cases. In fact, they aren’t even endorsed by the Secret Service anymore.”
Gore said there are two specific reasons why the usual detector pens that most business have can provide a false negative.
One is that the U.S. Treasury has been using a different type of paper to print money that does not react to the pen the same way as the old paper did.
The other reason is a type of counterfeit procedure that is used now. This is most evident in what is called “washing” money.
A person will take a $5 bill, wash the ink off of it and then print it so it looks like a $100 bill, meaning that a mark from the detector pen will show that the money is legit, just not tell that it was originally a $5 note.
One of the biggest ways to detect this type of counterfeiting, according to Gore, is to check the watermark on the bill. It will not fade away during the washing process and will be different from the portrait on the bill.
So instead of a watermark of Benjamin Franklin on what appears to be a normal $100 bill, Abraham Lincoln’s face tells its true origin.
The second way is also effective but is not easily achieved if there is not access to a high-powered microscope.
Authorities will look for the security thread in a bill and can see the type of denomination that was originally printed on the bill by looking at the markings imprinted on the thread.
“We haven’t seen either the thread or the watermark copied successfully on counterfeit bills,” Gore said.
Click to see the U.S. Secret Service website about how to detect counterfeit money.