Back in the days of the country’s civil war, about a third of the money floating around was believed to be counterfeit.
But things were different back then. Banks issued their own U.S. currency, with about 1,600 state banks designing and printing their own notes, according to the U.S. Secret Service. Of course, each bank had its own designs in place, which at times made it a monumental task to distinguish between some 4,000 varieties of counterfeit notes and around 7,000 real notes.
Counterfeiting today may not be as big a problem as it was in the 19th century, but the issue still exists, even as technology is introduced to make the process more and more difficult.
Tahlequah Police Detective Jeff Haney has studied the issues associated with counterfeit bills. Haney said city businesses – and perhaps indirectly, local banks – often see an increase in counterfeit bills being passed during the summer months.
“They always seem to go around during vacation time,” said Haney.
“People visiting here pass their fake bills at a very busy business, or at a small mom-and-pop place.”
Fake money usually presents itself in the form of larger notes, such as a $20 bill or a $100 bill.
“[Counterfeiters] look for the most amount of money with the least amount of effort,” said Haney.
Of the many ways to distinguish real money from the opposite, Haney said the best method is perhaps checking the security thread imbedded on bills larger than $1.
Genuine money created after the early 1990s includes a security thread, and each bill’s thread denotes what type of currency it is. This thread is visible only when held up to light, and each denomination also has a unique thread position.
The thread of a $5 bill glows blue when held up to an ultraviolet light source; on a $10 bill, it glows orange; on a $20 bill, green; on a $50 bill, yellow; and on a $100 bill, light red or pink.
The $1 bill does not have a security thread.
“Look for the strip and read the strip,” said Haney. “It will spell out what kind of bill it is.”
Haney said testing the thread is important because some who counterfeit bills have bleached a smaller note – such as a $1 or $5 bill – and reprinted it as a higher denomination.
“I wish we could get all of the convenience stores to buy those ultraviolet lights,” said Haney.
“That would help catch a lot of the fake money that’s being passed.”
And it would cut down on the loss of money to individuals and businesses who end up with those fake bills.
Bank of Cherokee County Chairman and CEO Gary Chapman said banks are required to turn over any counterfeit bills to the U.S. Secret Service.
“If we take it in a deposit, and we just find it, we’re out the money,” said Chapman.
If the bank catches the counterfeit while taking money from an individual or commercial client, that customer then has to “take the hit, so to speak,” Chapman said.
“We have to turn it into the feds,” he said.
“But I don’t know that I’ve seen [a counterfeit bill] in six months. Our people are not officially schooled in verifying counterfeits, but they’re really good at it. There is a marker that you can put a small mark on the bill, and if it turns one color or another, it basically says the bill is counterfeit. Our people are also very good at looking at the watermarks in the bills and spotting them. We’ve got people that have been in the business 25, 30 years, and they can almost look at one and say whether it’s counterfeit.”
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