BENTON Is the money in your wallet real? How would you know?
According to Special Agent Bruce Taylor of the Little Rock field office of the U.S. Secret Service, you probably have handled some counterfeit bills, especially if you work as a bank teller, a convenience store clerk or in some other occupation that handles a lot of cash.
“A little less than 2 percent of the American money supply is counterfeit,” Taylor told a group of business people in Benton at a meeting sponsored by the Benton Chamber of Commerce and the Benton Police Department Business Watch program on April 18.
He said the Arkansas office of the Secret Service receives 100 to 300 calls a month from businesses or people who think they have been given fake currency. Taylor said the bills turnout to be counterfeit about 80 percent of the time.
Lt. Mike Kassel of the Benton Police Department said the department receives from one to five calls a month from local businessesconcerned that they have taken in a counterfeit bill.
Taylor said the chances of encounteringphony money increase when someone handles a lot of larger bills.
“Domestic counterfeiters like to make $20 bills, and internationally, we see more $100 bills,” Taylor said. “The U.S. $100 bill is often used in international trade, and overseas, people don’t recognize the security features on our money like banks do here.”
The special agent explained that counterfeiters have a much harder time duplicating American money because the U.S. Department of the Treasury Bureau of Engraving and Printing redesigned the currency over a period of eight years, starting in 1996, and worked in color-shifting ink, special security threats and watermarks.
At the same time, Taylor said, counterfeiters have found ways to make fake bills that cannot be detected with the currency pens used by many stores. He said some criminals who print their own money use real U.S. bills to make what Taylor called bleached notes.
“They can take a $1 or $5 bill and scrub off the printing with corn starch or Easy Off oven cleaner, then reprint them as $20s or $100s,” he said. “That is real U.S. currency paper, so the pen will say it is real. Looking at the bills under black lights is the best way.”
The Treasury has embedded a clear polyester thread vertically in the bill’s paper. The placement is different for each denomination, and the thread glows a unique color under an ultraviolet light, or black light. The thread in a $5 bill will glow blue, a $20-bill thread glows green, and a $100 bill is seen in pinkunder the UV light.
“If it doesn’t glow, it isn’t real,” Taylor said.
Taylor said lights that detect the thread can be purchased in many places for as little as $8 each.
Some overseas counterfeiters do a very good job of creating American money. He said some of it originates in North Korea, and he had a very good phony $100 bill. He showed one of the bills to the participants at the meeting in Benton.
“It is what we call a super note, it is so well done,” Taylor said. “We have traced the parent note to west Africa. The family of notes has been passed all over the world.”
A parent note is the first sample of a good forgery that comes to the attention of the Secret Service. When other copies of the note are found, they form a family of the parent, and each time one of the bills is recovered, it provides information about how the counterfeit bills are being placed into the money supplyand their possible source.
“Some have been passed 1,500 times that we know of,” he said.
A Secret Service agent in Iraq recently recovered a tanker truck filled with more than $750 million in counterfeit bills that were being brought into the country.
“The next day, the agent’s interpreter was murdered, and the agent was withdrawn and brought home,” Taylor said.
“Internationally, there are even those [who are] counterfeiting coins, for the first time in decades. Our coin-counterfeiting expert retired six years ago. We are trying to get some trained now.”
He said an operation in China was turning out fake 1872 silver dollars that are silver but also contain zinc.
These phony old coins are often enclosed in sealed display envelopes and sold by “collectors” for as much as $2,800 each.
Taylor said one of the coins turned up at a business in Saline County, and Bryantpolice, along with the Secret Service, are still working on the case.
“A $2,800 loss can be a hard blow to a small business,” Taylor said.
He said many small businesses are the target for those who want to spread around some funny money.
“Drive-through windows take in a lot of cash, and most of it is not checked,” Taylor said. “You also have to be careful in bars. It is late, and dark, and the later it gets, the less likely someone is to check the bill.”
In the United States, doit-yourself money printing is almost always tied to drugmaking, especially by those running meth labs.
“All you need are some bleached bills, a computer, scanner and printer, and you can make some cheap copies that look good but have almost no security features,” Taylor said. “If the money looks ugly, it is likely connected to some ugly business.”
He said the new domestic,drug-related counterfeiter will make only about $1,000 at a time before changing locations. Taylor said that with bills printed by a computer, the ink will run if the bill gets wet.
The agent emphasized that counterfeit money is investigated and the manufacturers of the fake currency are pursued.
“You can do a lot in this country and get away with it,” Taylor said, “but if you fool with the money supply of the United States, you will get messed up.”
He said laws allow for homes, cars and other property to be taken if the owner is connected with counterfeiting.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.