April 17, 2014

Mostly sunny

The pen isn’t always mighty at detecting counterfeit cash

MEDINA — A pen that checks for counterfeit bills by leaving an ink stain on fake money may not detect all bogus bills. That’s because many counterfeiters bleach small bills and reprint larger denominations on the government-issued paper.

County workers who handle money learned Friday about the reprinting trick during a seminar on counterfeit money hosted by county Treasurer John Burke’s office.

During a presentaiton to Medina County employees Friday, J. Brad Lewis, director of services and support for F&E Check Protector Co., gives an overview of equipment his company sells that can help detect counterfeit bills. (LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

“In the last few months, we’ve had increasing incidents of counterfeit money,” Burke said. “Just yesterday we had a $50 bill come in one of our deposits.”

Burke said his office handles about $490 million annually, though it’s not all cash. About half of the revenue is real estate payments, but the rest comes from various county agencies. Still, there are a number of employees in every office who handle and process cash in the county each day.

With the influx of counterfeits being reported, Burke said he wanted to make sure employees know how to identify a real U.S. bill.

A U.S. Secret Service agent gave a presentation on what safeguards are printed on U.S. money to help identify it as a bona-fide Federal Reserve note. He asked that he not be named in this story.

One of the most common ways counterfeiters process money is by “bleaching” a small bill, like a $1 note, and reprinting a higher denomination on it, he said. The bill then has the look and feel of real money, and an ink pen meant to identify starches in non-government bills won’t flag the bill as counterfeit, the agent said.

The best way to check bills is to look for the watermark and make sure the presidential portrait in the watermark matches what’s on the face of the bill, he said.

In addition to the watermark, other things to look for are:

• Color-shifting ink — $10, $20 and $50 and $100 bills all have ink that shifts from green to copper in the bottom right-hand corner on the front of the bill. The ink displays the amount of the currency and switches from copper to green as the bill is shifted 45 degrees.

• Security thread — All notes except $1 and $2 bills have a security thread that glows under UV light and displays the denomination of the bill.

• 3-D security ribbon — $100 bills have a security ribbon woven into the paper. When you tilt it back and forth the “100’s” move from side to side.

The Secret Service agent said counterfeit bills commonly are $50s and $100s, but he’s also seeing more $20s being passed because they’re easier to slip by a cashier.

His advice to those who receive a bill they think is counterfeit is to try to get information from the person without causing a scene and to contact local law enforcement.

During the seminar, attendees also saw a presentation from J. Brad Lewis, director of services and support for F&E Check Protector Co., which supplies products to detect counterfeit bills.

“What we really look for are ways to detect good bills rather than find bad ones,” he said. He showed equipment the company sells, including a bill counter that costs about $3,000 that can be calibrated to pick out counterfeit bills in a stack of money. Because singles often are worn from wear, he can set the machines to a low setting for $1s, since they rarely are counterfeit, and have higher settings for bigger denominations. The machine processes bills that are “good” and kicks back suspect ones that are damaged or counterfeit.

“Most bill counters supplied to banks don’t have counterfeit protection,” Lewis said.

No matter the method, a visual check is the best way to spot a counterfeit, he said.

To see what security features to look for, visit www.newmoney.gov.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.