U.S. Secret Service advises merchants to be diligent in examining bills
Last week, several Franklin area banks and businesses received visits from U.S. Secret Service agents who were in town to alert merchants to a recent spike in counterfeit currency that has been detected in the area and to provide them with information to help them identify forged notes that come into their possession.
The Secret Service is currently investigating numerous reports of counterfeit twenty-dollar bills being passed to area businesses in Macon County, according to Glen Kessler, Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the Secret Service Charlotte Field Office.
Susan Gibbs, general manager at Macon Bank, confirmed that, at the two Franklin branch offices of the bank, 12 to 15 forged bills had been detected in a two-week period roughly three to four weeks ago.
“It’s not altogether uncommon for us to see a counterfeit bill, but that was an extremely large amount in that two-week period compared to normal,” said Gibbs. She noted that in the same period, other branches in the region may have collected a couple of counterfeit bills, but that the majority of the detections had been in Franklin.
Macon Bank, which operates only in Western North Carolina, has ten branches in total, from Murphy in the west to Hendersonville in the east.
Rick Mode, co-owner of the Gazebo Restaurant in Franklin, says that tellers at Macon Bank identified a counterfeit twentydollar bill in a deposit made by his business about three weeks ago. According to Mode, a lower denomination bill (for example a five dollar bill) had been bleached out and reprinted as a twenty.
Since the incident, Mode and his employees have been diligently checking all $20 bills that they take from customers. “We didn’t know about it until we made our deposit,” Mode said. “Somebody that was dining with us used it, but who knows where they got it.”
Macon Bank provided the business with a particular series and serial number of bill to be on the look out for. However, Gibbs noted that while the bank has seen some reoccurring serial numbers, it has also collected forged bills with different serial numbers. “We recommend to our customers, and our merchant customers in particular, that they really inspect bills closely for all the various markings and security features they put on the currency,” Gibbs said.
One of the biggest indicators of fraudulent bills in most recent cases has been in the texture and weight of the paper. “With these bills, we could really feel the difference,” Gibbs explained. “That was the biggest clue.”
Gibbs acknowledged that it is challenging for businesses that take in large amounts of cash and have multiple employees to screen each bill effectively. “They’re in a hurry. It’s easy to miss them.”
Det. Tracy Chastain of the Franklin Police Department also confirmed that there had been an unusually high number of reports of fraudulent bills coming in through multiple business deposits at area banks. Chastain noted that while merchants will often report counterfeit bills to local authorities, ultimately the crime falls under the jurisdiction of the Secret Service. Counterfeiting currency is a federal offense.
In 2010, businesses and customers in the Western District of North Carolina, received $1,070,054 in counterfeit currency. Secret Service investigations led to the seizure of an additional $102,057 in counterfeit, mainly through search warrants and undercover operations. So far in 2011, businesses and customers in the Western District of North Carolina, have received $401,704 in counterfeit currency.
According to Kessler, approximately 70 percent of the counterfeit currency was digital, meaning that it was produced on a color copier or computer. The remaining 30 percent was printed on large printing presses, generally in foreign countries, such as Colombia. The $20 Federal Reserve note is the most commonly counterfeited bill.
As counterfeit detection pens do not always work, the Secret Service encourages people to look for the security features of the bill, including that (1) the President’s portrait matches the watermark on the right side of the bill when held up to the light, (2) that the security thread that runs vertically through the bill is in the correct place and glows when held under a UV or “blacklight” and that the color changing ink on the lower right denomination actually changes colors when tilted at a 45 degree angle.
The following Secret Service website offers information on the security features that are embedded within U.S. currency: http://www.secretservice.gov/know_your_money.shtml.
If you suspect you may have a counterfeit bill or may be a victim of financial fraud, contact local police and the U.S. Secret Service’s Charlotte Field Office at (704)442-8370.