Counterfeit currency surge in Southeast Texas
In Beaumont, Orange and around the area, law enforcement officers are receiving calls from retailers and other victims reporting counterfeit currency being used to purchase items. And who is responsible for fabricating the bogus cash? According to peace officers, through advanced printing and scanning capabilities, it could be anyone – so everyone should be on the alert.
In December 2013, The Examiner exposed numerous incidents of reported counterfeit currency in Orange. In less than a week’s time, officers of the Orange Police Department discovered evidence of counterfeit bills being distributed around the city in at least three separate incidents. Police reports from the incidents indicated OPD received calls regarding counterfeit 10- and 20-dollar bills being passed at three Orange businesses from Dec. 13 through Dec. 16. Shortly after the incident, OPD Captain Cliff Hargrave said it is difficult to say, without further testing the counterfeit currency, whether any of the three incidents were related or if the bills were being distributed from the same source. According to Hargrave, he has noticed from years on the job that a lot of counterfeit money is distributed during illegal drug deals.
“These drug dealers love to rip each other off,” he opined. “A lot of counterfeit money gets passed around in drug transactions.”
Beaumont Police Department Detective Joseph Reyes said Beaumont is seeing an increase in reports of counterfeit currency, and most of those reports come from businesses, including banks where sophisticated detection systems are utilized to protect the interests of the financial institutions. According to Reyes, in the past few months, officers began hearing about the phony bills, primarily in denominations of $20 or $100, around the South End of Beaumont at and near Lamar University, including the McDonald’s on MLK near Washington. Now the reports are spreading, affecting all parts of the city and extending into Jefferson County.
“The larger bills, $20s and $100s, are most common,” Reyes asserted. “The new $100s came out in October 2013, and we started seeing counterfeits within a few weeks of that time. Fifties are more rare, but we have had a report of one 50, and we believe it came from an ATM at Lamar. The newer ATMs detect counterfeit bills, but the one there is older. We are receiving reports of counterfeit bills almost daily now. They are in circulation all over the city. They are being passed in fast food places, convenience stores, Walgreens, Walmart, CVS — everywhere.”
For example, on Feb. 5 BPD officers arrested a woman attempting to pass counterfeit cash at Target at 5850 Eastex Freeway in Beaumont. According to police, a woman later identified as 19-year-old Moriah Anae Thomas had four counterfeit $100 bills, all four of which had the same serial number. There were no watermarks, holograms, security strip or raised areas like those found on real bills. Thomas was arrested for forgery and taken to the Jefferson County Jail. She was held on $10,000 bond on which she was later released. The case is ongoing.
Jefferson County Deputy Rod Carroll said he is seeing a similar trend in the county.
“It’s all over,” Carroll said of counterfeit currency. “We get a lot of calls from businesses around the county, mostly reporting counterfeit 20s and 100s. We get calls on a regular basis, and we are working cases now.”
Reyes said, in addition to finding the illegal tender at local businesses, officers are also hearing reports of people receiving counterfeit currency when privately selling items on websites.
Detective Reyes, Deputy Carroll and Orange County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Clint Hodgkinson all agree that modern technological advances in printing and scanning capabilities make it easier to duplicate a bill than ever before.
“I think with technology being what it is today, anyone can do it,” Carroll said. “It used to be more organized. They used to have to use plates to print the bills. They would have to get the plates and everything. Now, anybody can do it.”
“We have ID’ed one person (printing counterfeit currency),” Reyes said. “But with the high-quality printers and scanners, more people can do it than before. They can use an HD scanner, get a copy of the bill and copy it. A lot of times they will print it on a sheet, all the same bill, and sell it.”
Carroll said a sheet of fake bills amounting to $1,000 in counterfeit currency could be sold for $50 to $100 on the street, which is, of course, the draw for purchasers. If they are able to pass the bills as real, they stand to gain funds or merchandise from between 10 and 20 times the cost of the bogus bills.
“It’s hard to duplicate the new hundreds especially, but they can do it,” Hodgkinson said of counterfeiters.
Carroll said that although anyone may be able to create the faux dough, he advises against it. Counterfeiters face stiff penalties if convicted. Counterfeiting is a third-degree felony and punishable by two to 10 years in prison and fines up to $10,000. And those spending the fraudulent funds could be subject to the same punishment as the mock money printers. People who knowingly attempt to pass counterfeit currency are looking at just as much prison time, fines and general trouble as the manufacturers because the charge is the same for both.
“We have made several arrests over the years of people knowingly spending counterfeit bills,” Reyes asserted.
Reyes and a group of his fellow BPD officers recently received training from Secret Service agents in Houston in identifying counterfeit currency and methods in reducing the circulation of fake money. Reyes said the training program highlighted three key security measures currently being utilized to prevent counterfeiting.
First, a reflective security ribbon is woven into new 100-dollar bills.
“It’s 3D,” Reyes said pointing to the blue reflective strip. When the note is tilted back and forth while focusing on the blue ribbon, observers can see the bells seen in the reflective strip change to 100s as they move.
Second, the color of the ink used on the numeral 100 in the lower right corner of the front of the bill shifts from copper to orange when tilted under light. Reyes said the color-shifting ink is utilized in bills of all denominations, not just the new hundreds.
Third is the portrait watermark, Reyes said. In order to see the portrait watermark, hold the bill to light and look for a faint image of Benjamin Franklin in the blank space to the right of the portrait. The image should be visible from either side of the note.
In addition to the three identifiers highlighted during BPD’s training course with the Secret Service, the entity to which all counterfeit currency goes, information provided by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Federal Reserve and the Secret Service offers a few other ways to identify the new hundreds. One new feature is the color-shifting bell contained in the inkwell on the front of the note. Tilt the bill to see the bell shift from copper to green, an effect that makes the bell seem to appear and disappear within the inkwell.
Officers agree that trained hands can also often identify counterfeit currency.
“I think money-handlers, like cashiers who constantly handle money, start to know how it feels, and a lot of times they can tell the difference just by touch,” Reyes said.
“Through my experience, I can generally tell the difference just by feeling the bill,” he said.
That is due to the unique material used for the notes, and raised printing procedures. If someone wanted to test the texture of the new $100 bill, they could move a finger up and down Benjamin Franklin’s shoulder on the left side of the note. It should feel rough to the touch, a result of the enhanced intaglio printing process used to create the image, according to the Federal Reserve, a process they say gives genuine U.S. currency its distinctive texture.
To learn more about U.S. currency changes, visit www.newmoney.gov. Anyone who receives a note they suspect could be counterfeit should take it to the local police.