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Money July 2016

Dollar Sense

Beware! Tis the Season for Counterfeit Money

By Teresa Ambord

When tired or distracted consumers get in a rush and scoop up a handful of bills in change without looking closely – on vacation, at neighborhood garage sales, or at the mall – it’s heyday time for crooks. If you’re going to avoid being a victim yourself, you must be on the lookout for fakes.

As the weather warms up, so does garage sale season, summer travel season, and a key season for passing fake money. Why? Because cash is used more, the same as during holiday shopping time. When tired or distracted consumers get in a rush and scoop up a handful of bills in change without looking closely – on vacation, at neighborhood garage sales, or at the mall – it’s heyday time for crooks. If you’re going to avoid being a victim yourself, you must be on the lookout for fakes.

 

What Are Cashiers Looking For?

You may notice that more and more often, when you hand a bill to a cashier, he or she will hold it up to the light. That’s not a perfect system, but it does indicate that counterfeiting is heating up, and employers are warning employees to be more careful.

Over the years, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has developed various security measures to make it harder for counterfeiters to produce fake bills that will fool the public, including:

  • Watermarks visible when a bill is held up to the light.
  • Security thread running vertically down the note, embedded with words and numbers. It glows blue under ultraviolet light.
  • Improved color shifting ink on bills of at least $10, which appears to change color when held at different angles.
  • Raised printing that gives the bill a texture quite different from plain paper. Also check to see if the bill feels real. Slightly raised printing gives it a unique, softer feel. When you put your hand into your pocket and touch paper money, you generally know it’s money. You know by the feel. Even brand new, stiff bills feel different from paper. If you’re given a bill that feels odd, rub your fingers along the edge. If it doesn’t feel right, hold it to the light to see if it has a security strip.

 

What to Do If You Suspect a Bill Is Fake

Chances are you won’t get a fake bill at a bank, because they are extremely cautious, but if you do, don’t leave the premises until you’ve shown it to a teller or manager. If you receive it in change from a business, show it to the cashier and ask for a replacement or ask to speak to the manager immediately.

If an individual hands it to you, such as at a garage sale, don’t confront him or her, says the Secret Service. It could be dangerous. Instead, discretely write down the person’s description, a description of the car and license plate he or she is in, and any other details you think of to give the police. If you end up with the bill, put it in a plastic bag, and call your local police or the Secret Service. Also, it’s not commonly known, but some homeowner or renter insurance policies will cover the loss associated with a fake bill. Ask your insurance agent.

If you’re in doubt, your bank teller can verify the authenticity of a bill or verify that it is fake.

 

What Else Not to do

Whatever you do, don’t try to pass off the bill to someone else. It’s a crime and you could end up in a pot of hot legal water.

Don’t ask your bank to exchange it for a real bill, unless the bank gave it to you. The bank is legally barred from accepting a fake bill.

And again, do not confront an individual who hands you a fake bill in payment or in change.

Law enforcement warns us that we may be our own best defense when it comes to spotting fake bills. When you are handed money, don’t be in a hurry and don’t be embarrassed. Again, a cashier will hold your bill up to the light. So you shouldn’t be embarrassed, or too rushed, to do the same. If you’re not sure, ask the cashier to take it back and give you another one. You can also call the U.S. Secret Service's 24-hour hotline at 305-863-5050.

 

Counterfeit or Just Unfamiliar?

When an eighth grader near Houston, Texas, tried to pay for school lunch with the $2 bill her grandma gave her, the cafeteria workers contacted the police officer assigned to the campus. The officer told her she might be in “big trouble.

How much trouble? Well, since Daneisha Neal was just a minor, it’s hard to say. But an adult who knowingly passes a counterfeit bill can face up to 20 years in prison, plus a fine.

Neal’s grandma confirmed that the $2 bill came from her and she’d gotten it in change at a store. Next, the police officer paid the store a visit. Finally, a bank confirmed that the bill was genuine. To clarify, it wasn’t that the cafeteria workers or the police officer had never seen a $2 bill. But they got suspicious when they used a counterfeit pen to check the authenticity of the bill and the bill failed.

Seems like much ado about nothing. But Forbes Magazine reports that at any given time, there is roughly $220 million in counterfeit bills circulating in this country. So, accepting cash should be done with caution. Just don’t call the cops on an eighth grader trying to score some chicken nuggets.

 

Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

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