University businesses feel uptick of fake money

University of Minnesota businesses are alert to the prospect of counterfeit bills and take measures to avoid accepting them.
February 01, 2012

Carson Powers never had formal training, but he knows a counterfeit bill when he sees one.

Since he started working at Erbert and Gerbert’s in Coffman Union last fall, he’s been handed bills with crooked font and even bills that had turned bright blue after “going through the wash.”

Powers said he deals with counterfeits “on a fairly regular basis,” and other businesses in the area had run into a similar problem.

There has been an uptick in counterfeit $10 and $20 bills this month, Marlene Woo, Stadium Village Commercial Association board member and manager of the Stadium Village TCF Bank branch, said during the association’s January meeting.

According to Secret Service agent Louis Stephens, it’s a common occurrence nationally around the holiday season because of the amount of money being circulated.

At the Arby’s on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank, general manager Jack LaBrasseur began warning his staff to watch for fakes as early as October.

“I’ve got my staff pretty well trained,” LaBrasseur said.

LaBrasseur’s store uses a detection pen. But he said that only catches about 75 percent of counterfeit bills, so the staff learned to also hold bills up to a light. If the image of a president shows through, it’s the real thing.

Powers said fake bills can also feel “wrong.”

“It feels like notebook paper or copier paper.”

When Powers can’t confirm he’s been handed a fake bill, he asks if the customer has a different form of payment. LaBrasseur will tell the customers their food will be ready in five minutes and then calls the police.

“It’s a federal crime,” he said. “And unfortunately, what typically happens is they pass it on my staff, and we’re stuck with the loss.”

The store managed to avoid accepting a counterfeit for a year, LaBrasseur said.

In 2010, the Secret Service made 3,028 total arrests for counterfeiting offenses, Stephens said.

The Secret Service traces fake bill producers through forensic exams of the defects, Stephens said. The counterfeiter will make similar defects on bills, and if the Secret Service receives a bill containing a defect not on record, they will create a new record of that type of defect.

In 2009, 0.5 percent of the $770 billion in circulated currency was estimated to be counterfeit, Stephens said in an email. Of that, more than 60 percent was produced digitally –– which can be as simple as using a computer, a scanner and a printer.

The punishment for knowingly attempting to use counterfeit money is a fine, up to 15 years in prison or both, according to the Secret Service website.

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