TWIN FALLS — In some circles, it’s called “funny money.”
There’s nothing humorous about counterfeit bills, though, especially when businesses take a loss from customers passing them in payment for goods or services, or serious crimes are committed as a result of their use.
At Shari’s Cafe and Pies last week, counterfeit $100 bills were presented as payment on two separate occasions.
“The first was an obvious fake,” assistant manager Kinsyi Lewis said.
The second, Lewis said, seemed to have all the proper security measures of authentic bills: the watermark, the ruffles, the seals and so forth.
Suspicious, she even asked the dishwasher on duty to inspect the bill.
In the end, it was accepted and, when sent to the bank as part of a deposit, discovered to be fake.
The Twin Falls Police Department has received about 20 reports of counterfeit bills so far this year, according to detective Brian Maugham. “That’s probably a little higher than last year for the same period,” he said.
The police have seen some phony $100 bills, $50s, $20s, and even a $1 bill, Maugham said. “What we usually see is kind of a mix.”
Captain Gary Taylor of the Jerome County Sheriff’s Office has a record of only one situation involving counterfeit bills this year. That occurred in January.
“It was at the Flying J Truck Stop,” Taylor said. A truck driver tried to pay with a counterfeit $20, though the rest of the money in his wallet was genuine.
The truck driver didn’t know where he’d acquired the phony bill, Taylor said.
For the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office, a person contacted deputies in May after finding three counterfeit $100 bills, spokeswoman Lori Stewart said.
Gooding County has two pending actions involving counterfeit money, said Staff Sgt. Derek Walker.
“It’s fairly sporadic,” Walker said of counterfeit reports in the county. “It is on the uptick, compared to what we’ve seen in the past.”
Walker noted that the cases have involved suspects in possession of counterfeit bills, but none have been passed in Gooding area stores.
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Officers from the Idaho State Police District 4 office occasionally run across counterfeit bills, Capt. David Neth said. He explained that such matters fall under the jurisdiction of the United States Secret Service.
“It’s automatically a federal crime,” Neth said. ISP turns over any counterfeit reports to federal authorities, who then investigate.
Counterfeit money can be the motivation for other crimes, as well.
One defendant charged in a felony case currently being handled by the Fifth District Court in Twin Falls told investigators the victim was assaulted and robbed because that individual gave the defendant counterfeit money, according to court documents.
Whatever the reason counterfeit bills circulate, there are ways for businesses and private parties to ensure the cash they receive is authentic, Maugham said.
Many businesses have purchased a special pen that cashiers use to swipe incoming bills. If the paper turns a certain color, the bill is genuine.
“The pen test isn’t perfect,” Maugham said. “It’s quick, that’s why businesses use it.”
The various security features put into real bills are numerous, he said, but businesses taking time to check bills can delay processing customers who may have been standing in line for quite some time.
Maugham has a favorite way to check cash.
“On real money, the ink will kind of sit on top, and has ridges.”
He recommends using a fingernail to scrape the collar area on the bill’s image — such as Ben Franklin on the $100 — and if it feels rough, it’s probably genuine.
Counterfeit bills are flat and don’t have that texture, Maugham said.
He admitted that technique is still not 100% accurate, he said, however, “I’ve always found it to be successful.”
Maugham offered a few other signs a bill might be counterfeit: the coloring of the ink is different, the printing could be blurry, or the edges of the bill aren’t cut well.
There are also the watermarks on the bills, and microprinting, Maugham said. These can be detected by anyone with a good magnifying glass.
In general, law enforcement officers advise businesses to train those handling cash to be observant, especially when accepting bills of larger denominations. By taking a little extra time, both the business and customers could be saved the difficulty of making up for any losses that take place when counterfeit bills slip through.