Counterfeit money: catch it or get stuck with it

  • Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Technology is making it easier to produce counterfeit bills; however, an educated eye can often spot the fake from the genuine. Comparisons of a pair of $20 bills reveal subtle differences. The counterfeit bill on the bottom is smaller and has uneven borders. When held up to a light source, the fake note is missing a faint image of the president's face on the right side. The light will also reveal a thin security ribbon running down the left side. However, this fake bill passed a critical test. Notice the counterfeit pen marking (brown scribble) to the left of the President Jefferson's face. The pen's ink shows up on real money. Therefore, the fake note was probably produced with materials that render the ink test worthless. Counterfeit currency for the photograph was provided and handled by the Kingstree Police Department. Photo by Michaele Duke

The scenario is typical: It's 5 p.m. and a line of customers wait their turn to pay for gas. One customer hands the employee $100.  With the transaction complete, he is out the door. What the employee didn't notice was the bill he was handed was in fact a worthless piece of paper; a copy that even passed the counterfeit detection pen test.

Counterfeit currency is no stranger to local merchants but the problem is becoming more prevalent. Not a month goes by that the Kingstree Police Department (KPD) Incident Reports don't include a suspect charged with counterfeiting. The KPD is currently searching for a male suspect who is alleged to have passed off hundred dollar bills, which were not high quality copies, at three local businesses.

An employee of one of those businesses caught the fake before an exchange was made. KPD Chief Eric Williams said the fake bill was not a copy of the new currency, which has several security measures built in, but it was still easy to spot. "Be aware of the money you receive," said Williams. "As far as texture - the look - where the edges are uneven, things aren't balanced. On genuine money, things are perfectly framed and balanced to scale. If things aren't to scale - if its leaning to one side or you have more space on one side than the other - nine times out of 10, you got something you don't want."

The redesigned $100 note was put into circulation in October of this year. The note incorporates two new security features: a bell in the inkwell and a 3-D ribbon. Additional security features include a color-shifting 100, raised printing and a portrait watermark.

Genuine US currency is printed on paper made of cotton and linen that reacts to most counterfeit detection pens containing an iodine-based solution. However, some counterfeiters use paper that can hinder the effectiveness of the pen. In addition, counterfeit production methods have advanced over the years to include scanners, computers and inkjet printers. Because of these advances, it is likely that counterfeiting will increase.

Counterfeiting of money is one of the oldest crimes in history. According to the United States Secret Service, at the time of the Civil War when banks issued their own US currency it was estimated that one-third of all currency in circulation was counterfeit.

In 1863, a national currency was adopted but that didn't stop counterfeiters and two years later, the United States Secret Service was established to suppress counterfeiting. Manufacturing counterfeit currency is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to 15 years or both. Possession of counterfeit currency is also a crime.

Counterfeit notes cannot be exchanged for the real thing. If you suspect you have received a counterfeit banknote, contact your local police department or your regional Secret Service in Charleston at (843) 388-0305. For more information about US currency and counterfeiting, visit newmoney.gov.

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