DENVER — Most of us believe we can easily tell the difference between a real $20 bill and a fake. The U.S. Secret Service here in Denver will tell you that confidence is based on the fact that you’ve never been faced with a really good fake.
Here in the Denver area, more than $2 million in fake 10s, 20s and 100s are floating around at any given moment, being passed between customers and businesses and between private sellers and buyers. And many don’t even know it’s happening.
Despite all the security features and anti-counterfeiting technology that has gone into printing U.S. currency, it’s easier to get your hands of fake money now than ever before. Much of it is perfectly legal. However, even some of that online money does not meet federal guidelines for what is referred to as movie or prop money.
Store clerks and cashiers run into it every day. Tammy Hale, a desk clerk at a Travelodge, nearly missed it.
“It felt like new money stuck together – kind of thick,” she noticed. “When I ran my pen across it, it definitely was not real.”
Tammy admits the fakes can be very good. In her words, they look just like the real thing. And the reason these bills are making it past so many businesses and individuals is simple.
“Most people do not take the time to really look at the money they accept,” says Matt Cybert, the special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service field office in Denver.
Cybert says 80% of the counterfeit bills that change hands are terrible fakes. And it would only take a few seconds to figure that out.
Truth is, most of us don’t. And that’s why Denver businesses and individuals are losing that $2 million every year. Remember, the last person to touch it pays the price.
“Businesses aren’t taking the time to train, and they also aren’t taking the time to look at the currency as it comes in,” says Cybert.
In fact, our local Secret Service holds periodic seminars to help store employees better understand how to pick the fakes from the real thing. Yet, when these seminars start, few, if any, ever show up to learn.
That is music to the counterfeiters’ ears. And more and more also have technology to thank for giving them the confidence to succeed.
In the past, it took patience, sophisticated off-set printers, fiber paper and color-matched ink to fake a bill. Today, it takes just a scanner-printer that plugs into the cigarette lighter in your car.
Matt Cybert has seen it over and over again.
“You can just say, all right I only need a twenty right now. Let me print this and go in,” he said.
If that’s too much work, let our overseas friends help. Getting your hands on fake money only requires a couple minutes of online shopping.
We checked sites like Amazon and Wish.com. Sure enough, we had a stack of fake 100’s in a couple days.
So, why do so many businesses fumble on the fakes? According to the Secret Service it’s a fear of inconveniencing or offending the customer. The solution?
“Do it every time,” Cybert says. “If you’re looking at every bill then there is no inconvenience. That’s what the customer will come to expect. If you are the business that is checking the currency, word gets out in the counterfeiting community and they’re going to go to some other place that doesn’t check.”
Checking is just a three-second process that includes looking at the texture and feel of the paper, the raised, imprinted strip and watermarks.
It’s three seconds Tammy Hale and her co-workers will be spending every time a customer pulls a bill out of their wallet.
Here’s another important point. The Federal Reserve has spent millions adding security measures to our currency. But it won’t spend a dime reimbursing you if you accept a counterfeit bill. That’s your loss.
And if you try to pay it forward and push that counterfeit bill off to someone else, or a business, the penalty is costly as well. You could spend up to 20 years in federal prison.
The best education you can get on how to detect counterfeit bills can be found at the website www.uscurrency.gov.