Spokane seeing increase in counterfeit money, what to look out for so you don’t get conned
SPOKANE, Wash. — Each year in Spokane, the Secret Service estimates there is around $200,000 spent in counterfeit money, both by knowing counterfeiters and by every day folks unknowingly in possession of fakes.
The head of the Spokane Secret Service office says over the last two years there has been an up-tick in that number.
Nationally, that number is in the $100,000,000 range.
“Common folks in the community are being victimized in addition to businesses,” said Secret Service Spokane Office Agent in Charge, Greg Ligouri, “Your best bet is to take a few extra seconds to look at your money when you receive it, because it can be quite obvious the money is counterfeit.”
He says the most common counterfeited bill domestically is the $20, though internationally it is the $100.
“We received 26 counterfeit bills, for a total of $520,” said Elizabeth Byczek, co-owner of Lovely Buds North and Starbuds. “That’s equal to a paycheck to one of our employees.”
She says what happened at her store is that during the rush of a busy day, especially around the holidays, her employees weren’t taking the time to look through all the bills, especially in the case of several large transactions. Some of the fakes were hidden in with real bills, and were overlooked.
“The worst one was truly like a bad toddler’s arts and crafts,” Byczek said, “but others were pretty hard to tell. The colors were off, and some felt more like construction paper that had been crinkled up to look old.”
She says she doesn’t want anybody else to lose out on their hard earned cash.
“It’s such waste to businesses to lose out like that,” she said.
Ligouri says technology is making it easier for counterfeiters to get higher quality bills printed. The highest amount of money printed that he’s seen during his three years in Spokane has been $25,000.
“Counterfeiters generally employ desktop publishing as their method to counterfeit,” he said. “It is literally that easy and depending on the quality of their printer they can actually manufacture high quality notes.”
He says there are a number of ways to make sure you don’t get conned.
One of the best ways is to check each bill by holding it up to the light and looking for a watermark on the right side of the bill.
This is because counterfeiters frequently take real single dollar bills and use a household de-greaser to remove all the ink and then reprint a higher denomination back on.
That achieves getting the feel of a bill correctly, but $1 bills don’t have a watermark.
He says taking time just to scan the bill itself, by looking at how the bill was cut for example, is another good method to avoid losing out.
Another way frequently used by businesses to check for authenticity is to use a special pen, which will turn dark if it’s a counterfeit.
The Secret Service cautions businesses against relying on this method.
“Counterfeiters will treat their counterfeit notes with a starch or chemical and it will give the potential victim a false reading,” Ligouri said.
Another method counterfeiters trick their victims that he says he’s been seeing more frequently is by using what the Secret Service call Chinese character notes. These bills can be ordered online and are not illegal in and of themselves.
“Counterfeiters will draw funky pictures over the Chinese characters and try and make it look like someone was doodling,” Ligouri said.
He says if you are uncomfortable that a bill may be counterfeit you are able to turn it down and ask for another form of payment, but be cautious when doing so. Ultimately your safety is more important than money.
If you do feel you are in possession of counterfeit money, you are encouraged to call the Secret Service office in your region and they will investigate.
“If people would take the amount of time in actually earning the money instead of faking the money, think of what could happen,” said Byczek, “That is a motivated group of people. $200,000 could do a lot of good in Spokane.”
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