Counterfeit cash: Fake money flowing through Indiana

As we get deeper into the busiest shopping time of the year, federal and local authorities are warning about a large influx of counterfeit money across the state of Indiana.

In the month of October, more than $150,000 in counterfeit money was seized in the Hoosier state.  That’s up from $92,000 in September and more than triple the amount during the same month last year.

According to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department records, police in Indianapolis received nearly 550 calls about counterfeit money through the month of October.  That averages out to nearly two every day.

Those calls to police only represent the times when counterfeit money is caught before it reaches a bank, either at a cash register or drive through window.  The majority of fake money is accepted at the point of purchase and discovered after it reaches a bank.

“Certainly with today’s digital technology, we all have potential to make counterfeit in our own homes,” said U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Lewis Robinson.

Robinson runs the downtown Indianapolis office of the U.S. Secret Service.  Every counterfeit bill discovered in Indiana eventually comes to his field office.  Robinson could not speak specifically about cases currently under investigation.  But he told Fox 59 the increase in counterfeit money does not seem to represent a large printing operation in any single location. More likely, it’s the result of individuals figuring out how to make fake money in their own homes.

“It could be an 18 year old looking to make counterfeit on a Friday night after a football game to go buy Burger King,” Robinson said.  “Or it could be someone who’s looking to supplement their income.”

Counterfeit $20 and $10 bills are the most common being discovered around Central Indiana.  Most of them show up at gas station convenience stores or fast food restaurants.

And many times, the person trying to pass the counterfeit bill has no idea that it’s fake.

For example, IMPD were recently called to a McDonald’s location on Southeastern Avenue because a man was trying to buy food with a counterfeit $20 bill.  As it turned out, he had just won the fake $20 in a raffle down the street at the “Road Dog Saloon.”

“We had no idea we were giving out counterfeit money for our raffle,” said Melissa Gill, a bartender at Road Dog Saloon.

Somebody had passed the fake bill at the bar and gotten away with it.

“And who knows if that person knew it was fake,” Gill said.

Since that day in September, employees at the Road Dog Saloon have been taking extra steps to protect themselves against counterfeit cash.  Behind the bar, there are several fake bills, recently taken from a customer, taped up to the wall next to the cash register.  Every bartender has a counterfeit-detecting marker that shows whether a bill is printed on genuine currency paper.  And bartenders hold every bill they take up to a backlight before accepting it.

But counterfeiters have gotten smart enough to beat the counterfeit-detecting markers.  A common method of modern counterfeiters is to bleach the ink off a $1 or $5 bill, then reprint it as a $20 or $100.  In that case, the bill is still printed on genuine currency paper and special markers won’t flag it as fake.

Other businesses are taking a more high-tech approach.

A few years ago, Ricker’s gas stations installed special safes that scan every bill transferred from their cash registers.  The safes were intended to make cash drops run more smoothly.  But as it turns out, they’re great at rejecting counterfeit money.

“So if a clerk sees a bill and they think it doesn’t look quite right,” said Jay Ricker, who owns about 50 Ricker’s stations across Indiana.  “It takes them a matter of three seconds and they can put the bill in and it spits it out if it’s not a valid bill.”

If a Ricker’s store clerk suspects a bill is fake, they can immediately put it through the safe scanner and either accept or reject it.  If the bill is fake, they call police to come pick it up. The bill with then be turned over to the Secret Service for tracking and investigation.

Special Agent Lewis says it’s important for business owners and managers to train employees on how to spot fake bills.

It’s not that hard once you know what to look for.

Holding a bill up to a light reveals the watermark and security seal.  Does the outline of the watermark match the portrait in the middle? In other words, is the Ben Franklin portrait at the center of your $100 bill mirrored by the watermark on the right side?  If the watermark shows the outline of Washington or Lincoln, than the paper was originally printed as a $1 or $5.  Also, does the security strip to the left of the portrait match the denomination of the bill?  The security strip on a $20 bill should say “USA 20 USA 20…”  If it says a different number, it’s fake.

You can also look closely at the color of the ink.  On a $20 bill, the large “20” to the right of the portrait should change color from copper to green as you move it under light.  If it doesn’t, it’s probably a reprint.

Right now, the U.S. Treasury is printing new $100 bills with new colors and security features.  It’s another attempt to stay a step ahead of counterfeiters and make it harder to reproduce currency.

If you want to learn more about detecting counterfeit money, you can check out a couple websites offered by the Secret Service:

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