Watch Out for Bogus Cash

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The Northwest Florida Secret Service Bureau sees an average of $1,500 in bogus cash each week and it's local businesses usually paying the price in losses.

Secret Service agent Robert Munson said, "Just take a little extra time and look at the currency, particularly fast food restaurants, retail or stores where there's a lot of busy shopping being done."

But the way most businesses try to uncover fakes, those counterfeit-detecting pens in particular, may not actually work. Agent Munson says the U.S. government does not condone their use because results are not always accurate. The ink in the pen reacts to the starch in fake bills, turning up a black mark. However, if a fake is printed on starch-less paper or a bleached bill, it could pass as genuine. The pens can also turn up false-positives for counterfeit on genuine bills, the starch passed onto the bill when washed through the laundry.

Paradigm, a restaurant and bar in downtown Tallahassee, uses other methods of holding bills up to the light, checking for the security strip and watermarks, and they probably have good reason to be so cautious. Tallahassee police say local bars are most often hit with bogus cash.

Amanda Flom, a Paradigm bartender, said, "In the back, we do have signs telling us what to look for, whichever is in the area or whatever is happening at other bars."

Agent Munson says the bars may want to consider another option, UV light. Most establishments have them already, using the lights to detect fake IDs. When genuine bills are held under UV, the embedded thread should turn up a different color, depending on the size of the bill.

But your best bet is to compare a questionable bill to a genuine. Businesses can contact local Secret Service bureaus to find out more on detecting bogus cash. In north Florida, contact the Tallahassee office at 850-942-9523 and in South Georgia, give the Albany office a call at 229-430-8442. The Secret Service says you have about a one in 10,000 chance of getting a bogus bill.

Here's a few more tips provided by the Tallahassee Police Department's Financial Crimes Unit and the United States Secret Service:

How to Detect Counterfeit Money:
Look at the money you receive. Compare a suspect note with a genuine note of the same denomination and series, paying attention to the quality of printing and paper characteristics. Look for differences, not similarities.

The genuine portrait appears lifelike and stands out distinctly from the background. The counterfeit portrait is usually lifeless and flat. Details merge into the background, which is often too dark or mottled.

Federal Reserve and Treasury Seals:
On a genuine bill, the saw-tooth points of the Federal Reserve and Treasury seals are clear, distinct, and sharp. The counterfeit seals may have uneven, blunt, or broken saw-tooth points.

The fine lines in the border of a genuine bill are clear and unbroken. On the counterfeit, the lines in the outer margin and scroll work may be blurred and indistinct.

Serial Numbers:
Genuine serial numbers have a distinctive style and are evenly spaced. The serial numbers are printed in the same ink color as the Treasury Seal. On a counterfeit, the serial numbers may differ in color or shade of ink from the Treasury seal. The numbers may not be uniformly spaced or aligned.

Genuine currency paper has tiny red and blue fibers embedded throughout. Often counterfeiters try to simulate these fibers by printing tiny red and blue lines on their paper. Close inspection reveals, however, that on the counterfeit note the lines are printed on the surface, not embedded in the paper. It is illegal to reproduce the distinctive paper used in the manufacturing of United States currency.

Inscribed Security Thread:
Beginning in 1990, a clear, inscribed polyester thread was incorporated into the paper of genuine currency. The thread is embedded in the paper and runs vertically through the clear field to the left of the Federal Reserve Seal. In 1996 the security thread indicating the bill's denomination is now located in a different position on each denomination. The inscribed security thread in the 1996 series $20 and $50 also includes a flag.

Color-shifting Ink:
Beginning in 1996, optically variable ink (OVI) changes from green to black in the number in the lower right-hand corner of the bill when viewed from different angles.

Should businesses continue to use counterfeit detection pens?: According to the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the U.S. government does not endorse the use of so-called "counterfeit detection pens," but rather encourages businesses and consumers to use the easy-to-use security features embedded in the currency notes' design. The so-called "counterfeit detection pens" are not always reliable for detecting counterfeit notes because they only detect natural fibers or starch in the paper. If a counterfeiter uses paper with natural fibers or has bleached an authentic note and used that paper to overprint a higher face value on it, the pens will offer no protection.