Police warn of fake bills, shoplifting

Dianne Yost News

On Tuesday, local downtown Madison merchants were armed with information on how to outsmart sneaky criminals passing fake currency or shoplifting.

The Madison Main Street Program merchants meeting featured City of Madison Police Officer Wes Thompson to update retailers on strategies criminals are using today.

“There’s a lot of counterfeit money going around.” Indeed, five cases were reported last week.

Thompson said most counterfeit money comes from criminal manufacturers in large cities, and some of it comes from the Internet. “Right now you can buy $10,000 worth of fake $100 bills for $13 on the Internet.”

“The main thing to look for is the feel of the bill itself,” he said.  He explained that authentic Federal Reserve notes are printed on 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen verses paper.

However, a lot of counterfeit bills feel like the real thing because criminals will take an authentic $5 bill, wash it with oven cleaner and other chemicals and reprint over it with a high-end printer to turn it into a $100 bill. “A counterfeit $100 bill may cost only $6 to produce.”

Thompson said the most popular fake bill is the $100 bill because that’s the most profitable.

As to the counterfeit detector pens, Thompson said “throw them in the trash” because criminals are getting more and more sophisticated. He said the pens don’t detect bills reprinted from an authentic $5, nor will they detect fake bills treated with chemicals that render the detector pens useless.

He said you can tell a real bill from a fake one by looking at the hologram and the security strip or ribbon that is woven into the bill. But, the best way he said is to find the color-shifting ink, which is used on Federal Reserve Notes on $10, $20, $50 and $100. The color of the denomination (100, 50, 20 and 10) at the bottom right of the bill contains color-shifting ink that shifts from copper to green as the note is tilted. The $5 bill does not have color-shifting ink.  Thompson also said another way to determine if a $100 is the real deal is if the inkwell printed to the right of Franklin’s portrait has the image of a bell inside of it.

Thompson cautioned that bills printed in the 80s and 90s do not have color-shifting ink. Another sign a bill could be fake is if it has writing on it. Thompson showed the group a $100 bill with the words “Happy Birthday” written at the top. “When you see writing on a bill, it shows that it’s been circulated and it draws your eye away from tell-tell signs of a counterfeit bill.”

If presented with a counterfeit bill, Thompson said, “Call 911 and don’t give the bill in question back to the customer.  Tell the customer you think it could be counterfeit and you need to call the police to verify it. If it’s fake they’ll make an excuse to leave . . . They may say they have to get their phone to call their bank.”

He said most of the counterfeit money they encounter is from stores, restaurants and gas stations located close to the interstate.  “They will bring in a $100 counterfeit bill, make a small purchase and pocket the change in real currency.”

Another trick criminals use to profit off of counterfeit money is to buy an expensive item and return it. For example, a criminal might buy a $1,500 TV with $1000 in counterfeit bills and $500 in real bills and later return the TV thus stealing $1,500 from a retailer. 

As to preventing shoplifting, Thompson said to look out for people wearing baggy clothes or carrying a big purse. “Watch them. If they are watching you, there is a reason.”

“Let them know you are noticing them.” For example, Thompson said you could compliment them on their outfit or their purse. “That tells them you notice them and can identify them.” He also warned that shoplifters often work in pairs or in threes.

Some of the retailers at the meeting told their own stories. One was about a pair of women with one carrying a small dog. All the attention is on the dog while the other woman shoplifts. Another retailer noticed a pair of customers who were clearly in costume. One had a walker that she kept leaving all around the store. And, yet another retailer said some shoplifters use a large drink cup in which to drop jewelry or other small items.

The key is to be observant. “Pay attention to your customers,” said Thompson.

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