Medford is suddenly awash in funny money, but police are not laughing.
Officers are taking counterfeit money reports at a pace that far outstrips last year, Medford police Chief Tim George said. "It's interesting that we're seeing so much of it this year," George said. "We are halfway through the year, and the numbers don't lie — there's a lot of counterfeit cash around."
In fact, the department has taken 171 reports of fake money through May, up from 63 reports at this point last year, a 171 percent increase. "We're on pace to double or triple last year's counterfeit reports," George said.
One of the more notable cases happened June 28 when a 60-year-old woman sold an English bulldog to a man who claimed to be from the Portland area, according to Medford police Sgt. Brent Mak.
The woman sold the dog for $1,200, which the suspect paid in counterfeit bills. The woman attempted to spend the fake cash at Winco and was stopped by store employes who recognized they were counterfeit.
She spoke to investigators and filed a police report.
"This victim is out $1,200 in product," Mak said. "The product being the dog. It's a financial hit, either way."
One thing that's causing the bump in counterfeit cases is the high-quality printing that's available to anyone with a computer at home, Mak said.
"These printers are so good these days that you can print a pretty good facsimile of a bill," Mak said.
A popular method of creating fake cash is to take real money, such as a $5 bill, and bleach it. Suspects will then print the features of a $100 bill on the stock and pass it around town.
"They'll print a $50 or $100 and then go to a convenience store or fast-food restaurant and buy a cheap meal with the counterfeit money and then pocket the change," Mak said.
Retailer cashiers are often too busy to carefully inspect all the cash they receive during a workday. Counterfeiters also know to thread fake money in with real bills to better disguise them, Mak said.
Stores provide cashiers with pens that are meant to turn a certain color when the ink touches a fake bill. These pens, however, are next to worthless, Mak said.
"They don't work," Mak added. "The only way you can tell for sure is through feel and checking for the watermark on the bill."
Police advise that cashiers take the time to hold larger bills to a light and see whether the face of the president in the watermark matches the one printed on the face of the bill.
The paper stock that the Federal Reserve uses for money is not available to the public, so counterfeiters often use thick paper to pass for real money. This paper obviously doesn't pass the "feel test," Mak said.
"The best training retailers can do is have employees handle real money and fake money at the same time," Mak said. "There's no comparison, really."
Some of the fake money is brought in by organized crime from large cities. Much of it is created by drug addicts in motel rooms, Mak said.
"They will come into town and print it up in their motel and then spend it around before moving on to another city," Mak said.
It's difficult for victims to recoup their loss unless a suspect is arrested and ordered to pay restitution.
"It's always better to be vigilant and not become a victim," Mak said. "If you meet someone to sell them something, meet at a bank and then have the money checked right there. At the very least, give the money a close look."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.