Saturday, April 16, 2016

Ersatz C-Notes

Is this a face you can trust?

When I was in a small store last week, I noticed a sign by the cash register saying the establishment would not accept $100 bills for purchases.

"There were too many counterfeits," said the cashier.

The police blotter in our local paper reported this week that the Neiman Marcus store at the mall had collected $1,800 in bad $100 bills in a single day last week.

The Benjamin got a big update three years ago with a new look and better security features, including ink colors that shift when a bill is moved about under a light.

The counterfeits now being passed are of the less secure, pre-2013 design.  Usually, it has been said, they are older $1 or $5 bills that have been repurposed by fraudsters who use a chemical treatment to pull off the original ink and then reprint a new $100 bill on the same paper.

Some recent reports:

     -- Last Monday, police in Rochelle, Ill. reported, a woman used counterfeit $100  bills
         at several local businesses.

     -- Six different stores and restaurants in Woodbridge, NJ, were the unlucky recipients of fake                 Benjamins on a single day in February.

     -- Malls in Connecticut and New Jersey reported several cases of fake $100 bills
         being used to buy goods in January.

     -- Also in January, police in Sauk Prairie, Wis. said three different persons used
         bad Benjamins at five local stores in a single day.

It seems that people with limited ethical standards sometimes buy fake money for about 40 percent of the (false) face value.  These people often make small purchases with the large bills and collect the change in genuine currency.

Two years ago, the U.S. Secret Service busted 13 people for operating a counterfeiting operation that was reputed to have produced $77 million in funny money since 1999 at plants in Israel and New Jersey.  (The four leaders of the group were described as Russian-speaking Israelis.) Before the raid, there had been increasing numbers of reports of counterfeit money in the Northeast.

This new surge of fake money complaints may mean that another unscrupulous group has set up shop since 2014.    

It happened before.  In 2007, street gangs in Los Angeles were reported to be passing fake banknotes all over Southern California and as far away as Hawaii.  In 2005, the federal government charged that North Korea was printing fake U.S. currency.  That same year, a Canadian counterfeiter admitted he was the manufacturer of very, very realistic-looking $20 bills.

According to law enforcement officers, there are several ways to ascertain whether a banknote has been bleached and reprinted.
           The simplest is to hold the bill up to a light and see whether the watermark matches the inked image.  If the printed image is Benjamin Franklin but the watermark looks like Abraham Lincoln, (whose picture is on $5 bills) then the bill almost certainly is a counterfeit.
           More subtle signs are red and blue fibers that appear to be printed, not embedded, on the bill's paper, and presidential images that look more flat than the vivid images on genuine currency.

One Thought

Sometimes in the late spring, I tuck a $100 bill into a graduation card for a young friend.  This usually requires a trip to the bank since I don't carry large bills.  I hope banks are as reliable at spotting counterfeit money as their officers claim.  Imagine giving an 18-year-old a gift that could land him in the hoosegow!

Maybe it would be more safe to get debit cards instead.

No comments:

Post a Comment