Delaware has drawn the attention of the U.S. Secret Service.
Delaware has drawn the attention of the U.S. Secret Service.
Among other duties, the agency investigates financial and electronic crimes, including counterfeiting of U.S. currency.
Delaware has seen a recent spate of counterfeit bills being passed at local businesses, said police Capt. Adam Moore.
From Oct. 1 to Feb. 20, he said, Delaware police received 18 reports of counterfeit bills being passed in the city, mostly at businesses.
The majority of the fakes were $20 bills, but some $50 and $100 bills also were passed, he said.
The Secret Service has opened an investigation into the incidents, Moore said, aided by information provided by recipients of the counterfeit bills and leads generated by city police.
The Secret Service is "most widely known for protecting the president, but I don't know whether the public is aware that one of their other functions is counterfeit bills and policing money in the country," Moore said.
Several factors can make investigations of counterfeiting challenging, he said.
Counterfeit bills aren't always spotted immediately, which means police typically aren't notified until days after they have been passed, he said.
Such discoveries often occur when a business is calculating its receipts for the week, he said.
"Sometimes, we get a call and the person passing the bill is still on the scene trying to make a purchase," Moore said, "and we end up with a double victim because the person who's trying to make the purchase, the bill got passed to them somewhere. They had no intention of passing the fake bill to the business. Sometimes, the bills get in circulation, and it's hard for people to pick up on it."
Moore urged anyone who receives a counterfeit bill to call the police.
"Sometimes I think citizens think, 'Oh, we're wasting the police's time by calling. I've been had. Shame on me.' But we really want the calls. We want to get our hands on the fake bills because, a lot of times, with any criminal investigation, sometimes it's solved through a little bit of information from this person and a little bit of information from that person and some more from this person, and we put it together," he said. "It gives us a clear picture of the puzzle."
A closer look
Newer U.S. currency, he said, has features that essentially are impossible for counterfeiters to duplicate. Many of those features can be identified by a quick examination of the bills, he said.
For example, $10 bills and higher denominations have a numeral on the front side's bottom right corner that changes from gold to green as the bill is tilted from side to side, Moore said.
All bills except $1 and $2 bills have watermarks that can be seen when held up to a light, as well as a security thread listing the denomination.
One hundred dollar bills have extra security features, Moore said. One is a blue security ribbon on the front of each bill. Type on the ribbon shifts position as the bill is tilted up and down.
An ink well, resembling a small jug or bottle, on the lower right-hand side of a $100 bill operates in a similar way. An image of the Liberty Bell appears and disappears on the ink well as the bill is tilted.
Real money also is identified, Moore said, by the bills' texture and printing.
Routine paper feels smooth when a finger is rubbed across it, whereas currency has a rougher texture, he said.
Yet another trait of counterfeits, he said, are bills bearing the same serial number. Every legitimate bill has a unique serial number, he said.
Although pens designed to spot counterfeits are a first line of defense, they aren't 100% effective; they might misidentify both legitimate and counterfeit bills, he said.
'Slow things down'
Even when cashiers at local businesses are busy dealing with long lines, clues often appear when a counterfeit is being passed, Moore said.
"I tell employees and business owners to kind of be a student of human behavior, in the sense of, 'How do 99% of your customers act when they're in your store?' And then that one person that is acting way different than the majority of your customers.
"An example would be, do you have somebody come in and look for the cheapest item you have in your store and then they come up and they want to pay for it with a $100 bill? Is that normal? That's kind of your first line of defense, to say 'This is unusual. This isn't how 90% of my transactions go,' " he said.
"It's not inappropriate for a cashier to say, 'We've been getting fakes, and I have to check this with my manager.' A lot of times what happens is you go to check it with your manager and you turn back around and, lo and behold, the person who was trying to buy something with it is gone," Moore said.
"If the person up and walks out and leaves, we would call that a clue. ... A lot of times folks that are trying to pass these will try to use techniques where they get you flustered. They're passing you bills and say, 'Oh, wait. Don't use that one. Use this one.' So if you find yourself in that situation, take a breath. Try to slow things down and get a chance to look at it.
"We encourage you to call us if you think there's an issue," Moore said.
If a business fails to identify a counterfeit bill, Moore said, the fake is virtually guaranteed to be spotted when it arrives at a bank.
Marcey Zwiebel, director of corporate public relations for PNC Bank, said PNC's teams are trained to identify altered currency.
"Our employees examine a bill's physical characteristics, check its Treasury Department security features and, in certain instances, use advanced detection methods to help ensure that counterfeit bills are not recirculated," Zwiebel said.
She said staff members also check Secret Service websites for updated information about design and security features of U.S. currency.
"We recommend that our customers do the same, as PNC is required to confiscate all counterfeit bills and turn them over to the Secret Service," she said.
For more information on counterfeit bills and security features, go to uscurrency.gov.