Feds See Surge in Counterfeit Money
The Secret Service confiscated twice as much counterfeit money as a year ago -- potentially bad news for cash-only small businesses.
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The jump in funny money on the streets could be especially bad news for small businesses with cash-only policies. Unfortunately, for those that find themselves on the receiving end of counterfeit cash, there are no guarantees the real money will ever be recouped.
In many cases, counterfeit bills actually start out as real $1 or $5 bills that have been bleached and reprinted to look like larger bills. Sometimes counterfeiters will use unofficial paper but coat it with hairspray or other substances to fool certain detection technology. Most counterfeit bills come in the form of $20 bills.
Small-business owners can save big by training employees -- especially cashiers -- to look at cash critically. Employees can use detection technologies such as an ultraviolet light to reveal a fluorescent strip within the dollar bill that indicates the amount.
But companies do not need to buy high-tech equipment to keep counterfeit cash out of the till. Many criminals do not get the fiber colors precisely right -- real bills have tiny red and blues lines -- or the color of the serial numbers and treasury seal on the dollar might not match. The Secret Service lists more slight differences between real and bogus bills on its website.
"You should know the simple things about [a counterfeit bill] that you can see when it's right there in front of you," said Max Milien, a spokesman for the Secret Service. "If at that time you can't make a determination, it will normally be discovered when it is deposited at the bank. The bank will catch the counterfeit note, then notify the business of whatever loss the business will suffer."
The U.S. Treasury warns not to risk danger by returning the suspicious money, if it looks like a potentially volatile situation will ensue. Instead, the department advises employees to take down a description of the customer and, if possible, his or her license plate number. Place the money inside a plastic bag and report it to local police or the Secret Service.
After debuting several new bill designs in recent years, the federal government plans to add additional protection to $100 bills next year, including color-shifting ink and plastic strips with 3D-images.