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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkNews from Around the Americas | January 2007 

Bogus Bills Flood Iowa During Christmas Shopping Season
email this pageprint this pageemail usTom Alex - Des Moines Register


Chuck Hull, senior resident agent with the U.S. Secret Service in Des Moines, displays a counterfeit $20 bill, top, above a real one. More than $14,000 in fake money was detected last month in Iowa, officials say. (Rodney White/The Register)
U.S. Secret Service in Iowa counts $14,000 in counterfeit cash last month.

Funny money, bogus bills, counterfeit cash; anyone with a computer can make it nowadays.

Last month, more than $14,000 in counterfeit cash was detected in Iowa and turned over to the U.S. Secret Service, according to Chuck Hull, senior resident agent in Des Moines. Typically, between $100,000 and $120,000 in counterfeit cash is detected yearly in Iowa; about 80 percent of it is believed to have been made right here.

It's not just $100 bills or $50s and $20s. Counterfeit money down to $1 and $5 bills is now being circulated.

"It seems like a lot of small bills," said Mike Hixson, who has worked for Dahl's Foods for 37 years and is now the director of the store on Beaver Avenue. "They used to do 100s and 50s. Now they do 10s, 20s, even 5s."

Hixson trains his staff to hold bills to the light to check for watermarks and security threads.

Des Moines police wrote 116 incident reports about counterfeit cash in 2006. There were 194 reports in 2005, a year in which a lot of bogus cash was coming into the country from Mexico. Officials believe they reduced the flow of counterfeit bills that year after they shut down a large counterfeit printing plant in Guadalajara.

Several bogus bills have been detected recently by Community State Bank offices in the Des Moines area. Many of the bills have been discovered in night deposit bags from area restaurants and other businesses.

Cindy Williams, a vice president with Community State Bank, said her bank has recently detected many counterfeit bills.

"It's a matter of training. Our staff is trained to look for them," Williams said. She added that tellers have become good at finding them. "A lot of them can tell by the feel of the paper, its texture and thickness."

She said $20 bills are popular with counterfeiters right now.

"It's that time of year," Williams said. "Fraud really goes up at Christmastime."

Counterfeit detection methods, once reserved only for the occasional large bill, are routinely practiced at many businesses. Store clerks commonly use a special pen to test bills. If the mark turns yellow, it means good; brown or black means counterfeit. The problem with the pens, say officials, is that they are only about 70 percent accurate.

A check of products available online for detecting bogus money shows a variety of options, including ultraviolet light, ink and magnetic detection. Some counterfeit detectors use more than one method.

Amy Williams, the store manager at Office Depot on University Avenue, said she has seen an increase in the number of small-business owners buying counterfeit detection pens in the past two months. "I've seen a few people come in to buy them who normally wouldn't," Williams said.

Counterfeit bills have been found in recent weeks at restaurants, convenience stores and at branch banks. A Des Moines man discovered he had been carrying one in his wallet.

Harold Belken, 77, asked his brother-in-law to buy him some special glue to reattach his rearview mirror to his windshield. He gave him a $5 bill to cover the purchase at O'Reilly Auto Parts, 2927 S.E. 14th St.

An upset brother-in-law returned and told Belken he needed to go to the store himself and tell what he knew about the $5 bill. It wasn't real. When Belken went to the store, he got an education on counterfeiting.

"The clerk knew it was counterfeit, but I really couldn't tell," Belken said. "He handles a lot more money than I do."

Des Moines Police Detective Steve Mickelson said that's what makes counterfeiting difficult to investigate. By the time a bogus bill is discovered, it is often in the hands of an innocent victim like Belken.

"I don't know where I got it," Belken said. "It might have been at the Hy-Vee or it might have been at McDonalds. I think I'd had it in my wallet two or three days. ... I think it had been passed around a lot. It looked like it had gone through the wash."

One important thing to know about counterfeit money is that the one caught holding the bill usually loses the money. Banks, however, often can prove where they got the money because it comes in a night deposit bag with the name of the business on it. Or a clerk or teller can identify it as it's handed to them. So it is the business or the customer who suffers the loss.

When bogus bills are discovered, they are sometimes sent to the U.S. Secret Service straight away, and sometimes they are turned in to the local law enforcement agency and then are sent on to federal officials.

Reporter Tom Alex can be reached at (515) 284-8088 or talex@dmreg.com



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