Take a $20 bill out of your wallet and look at it carefully. Is it the real thing? There's a chance the money you're holding could be fake. Police say any one of us can be a victim of counterfeiting and it's a rising problem that hits every community.
All the cash spread out on the table at the D'Iberville Police Department looked legit. The denominations ranged from $1 up to $100 bills. But the bills sealed in the bags were just some of the fake cash that have been seized police.
"These $100 bills here, they all have the same serial number," Lieutenant Terry Hines explained as he held up some bills.
Hines also pointed to a printer, computer equipment, and brief cases.
Hines held up one of the cases and said, "This here is just material, knives and straight edges."
Police believe the items were part of a mobile lab used to manufacture money at a nearby hotel.
"I was surprised with the actual lab set up, and just amazed on how sophisticated it was to make that money," said Hines.
Hines said D'Iberville Police have handled more than 160 counterfeit cases since 2008. Thirty-three of them occurred last year alone. The cases ranged from counterfeiting rings to children using bogus bills at local stores.
"We have a large shopping center and a lot of businesses. Right off the interstate, easy access, and easy getaway," said Hines.
One business that has been targeted is "Ice Cream and More" at the Promenade Shopping Center.
"I have been a victim twice to it. One time we actually got footage of the character. The second time, didn't know until after I made my deposit," said owner Marc Wyatt.
Wyatt said last August, a man came in to buy a snow ball. But Wyatt became suspicious of the $20 bill he received.
"He said, 'OK, no problem. I got more money out in my truck.' Not thinking no different, he went out there and never came back," said Wyatt.
Two months later, police said they arrested that suspect when he tried to use printed money at two other stores in D'Iberville.
"It really hurts, but it hurts everybody. It don't hurt just me, because if I take in fake money. That means my prices have to go up," said Wyatt.
So how can you avoid being a victim? Hines' advice is to know your money, because counterfeiters will try to fool you.
"One of the biggest, growing ways is actually bleach small denomination bills and make them into large denomination bills," said Hines. "It's where they take a $5 bill and bleach all the ink out of it, and they were going to run it through a printer, making it into a $100 bill."
Here are some ways you can spot phony money. Every bill has different security features that can't be duplicated.
Hold the bill up to the light and look carefully at the watermark. For bills that are $10 or more, the hologram on the right side should match the face on them. One bill looked fake because the hologram showed Abraham Lincoln, but the portrait on the bill featured Benjamin Franklin.
For bills that are worth $5 or more, read the security thread embedded on them. The tiny words should tell you the value of each bill.
Then, look at the shiny number at the corner of bills that are $10 on up. The ink should change color when you view it at an angle.
"You see the $10 here? It'll change colors from goldish green to black and back," Hines explained.
You can also check the printing quality on each bill.
"You can see the fine micro printing, this all bled together," said Hines.
And feel the bill to check its texture.
"These aren't made on real currency. They're actually paper," said Hines.
Many businesses rely on counterfeit detection pens. If you mark a bill with the pen, and the ink turns black, the bill is probably a fake.
But police say beware. If a $5 bill has been bleached and turned into a $20 bill, the pens will indicate it's still real money, even though the value has been altered.
"The pen is a good deterrent, but it's not fool proof," warned Hines.
Police have this advice if you do come across some funny money. First of all, don't hand the bill back to the person. Hang on to it for evidence. Second, do your best to keep the person occupied while someone calls the police. Finally, limit the number of people who touch the bill for fingerprinting purposes.
"It's an ongoing battle trying to actually get these people that are passing this counterfeit currency," said Hines.
Marc Wyatt is more vigilant now about checking for counterfeit cash. He has installed security cameras and posted signs around the store to remind his employees to be on the look-out too.
"Small business like me, my revenue is not that high. So a $20 bill hurts me bad," said Wyatt. "Keep bringing it to me. We'll get you off the street, because I'm going to find you."
The D'Iberville Police Department and the U.S. Secret Service have been meeting with area merchants to help them detect counterfeit currency. They have detailed pamphlets that explain ways to spot phony money.
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