By Karen Cornelius
Counterfeit money circulating in Vermilion is not a huge problem, but one that has popped up recently during the Festival of the Fish and at some local businesses, even a fake $20 bill reported as recently as July 23. Unfortunately, retailers, clubs, and the general public bear the entire burden of the financial loss. The person passed a counterfeit bill owns it, there is no reimbursement.
Vermilion police detective Steve Davis suggested the public might like to know more about these counterfeit bills so no one gets stuck. “While it’s not a big problem, I’ve seen more counterfeit bills this year than I can ever remember,” said Davis. He said some of our local nonprofit clubs who help community causes got stung at the festival and lost income. Now that the Woollybear Festival is coming up in September, perhaps volunteers and vendors will be more aware of this scam.
A few businesses in town also got burned, including Goodwill, where the police were able to arrest one male with the help of the Elyria police because this same person was also caught in that city. The case is pending, but the charge is Criminal Simulation, passing a counterfeit note, a misdemeanor. Proving someone actually made the fake money results in a fine and maximum 20 years in prison.
People caught often claim they didn’t know the bill was fake so it is hard to actually find the person doing the actual counterfeiting of bills. Detective Davis stated that sometimes that is true, a person may not realize he or she has a counterfeit bill so they become victims, not criminals. All the counterfeit bills turned over to the Vermilion Police are given to the Secret Service which is tasked with finding counterfeiters. Davis said the Secret Service does have some relative success and concentrates more on the serial numbers used on the bills.
He advises people to slow down and look at larger denominaions such as a $50 bill. One dead giveaway could be someone handing $50 for a very small purchase such as $1 or $2. At the festival it appeared someone was handing a counterfeit $20 for a $2 game/activity, and then repeatedly coming back in intervals to do the same thing making $18 in legal tender each time. Davis also advised it’s best not to confront an individual and not get physical. It’s better to call the police and have a description of the person, car license plate, etc. “Don’t confront the suspect. It’s only property. Don’t get harmed over property. It is what it is,” said the detective. This is good advice for any crime really. For example, shoplifting, the situation could get worse if the merchant starts chasing the shoplifter and there’s a confrontation. No one should put themselves in danger, report the incident to the police immediately and ask for help.
Anyone so inclined can try to produce counterfeit money with a PC, laptop, scanner, a color inkjet printer or copier. However, the U.S. Treasury has a lot of tricks up its sleeve when printing actual money that trip up these counterfeiters. Detective Davis said one of the easiest ways to identify counterfeit money is by touch due to the paper’s texture being used. Real money is thinner and crisper, not the rag paper people buy at office supply stores. Davis said if you take your fingernail over the vest/coat of the portrait on the bill, example, a picture of Jackson on a $20, you can feel ridges, something counterfeiters can’t produce. A real portrait on a bill is very sharp with fine detailing, a fake one is often dull, blurred, or flat. Counterfeiters even bleach real bills and change the denominations.
Also, on the bottom right of each bill is the denomination such as $20. If you crinkle this corner, the ink color shifts from a gold to green and back again. There is additionally a security thread that goes vertically from the top to bottom of each bill except $1. You can often see this vertical colored line by holding the bill up to the light. Each denomination has its own color such as a red/pink line for $100 and a green line for the $20 bill on 1996 and later series notes. Davis has an UV Beast, an ultra-violet flashlight, he puts the bill over which shows the strip. These are relatively cheap to purchase and an easy way to tell if the bill is real or not. He stated that special detector pens are also sold to mark the bills, but they are not very reliable.
Each bill further has a watermark people can see better if they hold the note up to a light source. The watermark is the image of the person’s portrait on the bill. There is microprinting on each bill, too, with “USA TEN” or “USA TWENTY”, etc. visible. Sometimes it helps to compare the bill received to one that is known to be authentic. Real bills also have colored fibers imbedded in the paper, blue and red threads for security. For those professionals who can identify counterfeit, there are many other ways to determine what is real and what is fake. Some bills prior to the 1990’s do not have some of these security devices and can still be legal. Davis stated that he and other detectives are available to businesses and individuals who would like to know firsthand about suspicious money or how they can detect counterfeit money. Just call the police station at 440-967-6116 for an appointment.
Detective Davis added that while he is reminding people about counterfeit money, he would also like to repeat some warnings about other scams that continue to fool people although he has seen some headway about people in the community becoming more alert. There are still calls being made with criminals impersonating the IRS and demanding money for taxes owed. One victim supposedly owed $4,000. Davis said the IRS does not call people. He advised people to get a return call number and tell them they are going to call their tax accountant. Instead call the police and report it. Another scam is people impersonating the gas, water, or electric companies saying they need an amount of money now or they will shut off the supply. A long-time scam about a relative or grandchild calling from jail for money still circulates.
Davis said all these scammers are pushy and intimidating. They want money immediately and usually target the elderly who don’t expect such calls and are caught off guard. They ask for gift cards and all they need is for the victims to read off the gift card numbers. The detective warned never to give personal information over the phone, no social security numbers or bank numbers. “I’d rather have people call us about incidents and check them out to see if they are right,” said Davis.
Another popular way to steal people’s credit card numbers is the use of scanners where thieves can remotely gather data from the RFID chip in a person’s credit card. This has happened to many people who may innocently be pumping gas while having their credit cards scanned from nearby. Davis stated that people can purchase credit card protection sleeves and he has one that covers up this information.