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MailTribune.com
  • Counterfeit money cases spike in Medford

    Dramatic spike in 'funny money' cases hits the county
  • At first blush, two $20 bills placed side by side certainly appear authentic enough that neither would make a cashier do a double take while working the window of a busy drive-through at a fast-food restaurant.
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    • Protect yourself
      Here are ways business owners and consumers can inspect their cash to determine whether the bills are legitimate.
      Check the paper: Real bills are on paper that consists of 25 percent linen and 7...
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      Protect yourself
      Here are ways business owners and consumers can inspect their cash to determine whether the bills are legitimate.

      Check the paper: Real bills are on paper that consists of 25 percent linen and 75 percent cotton, with small and randomly dispersed red and blue fibers embedded through the note. Fake bills are often printed on resume-stock paper.

      Check the watermark: The 1996-style and 2004-style bills have a watermark visible from either side when held up to a light. On the $20 bill, for instance, it is a likeness of Andrew Jackson visible on the right side of the front and left side of the back.

      Check the security thread: Genuine bills have a clear polyester thread embedded vertically in the paper. On a $50 bill, it's to the right of Grant's portrait. On a $20 bill, it's to the left of Jackson's portrait. On the $10 bill, it's to the right of Hamilton's portrait.

      Check the portrait: The 1996-style Federal Reserve Notes have an enlarged and off-center portrait enclosed in an oval frame. The 2004-style notes have an enlarged and off-center portrait without a frame.

      — Source: U.S. Secret Service
  • At first blush, two $20 bills placed side by side certainly appear authentic enough that neither would make a cashier do a double take while working the window of a busy drive-through at a fast-food restaurant.
    But held up to a light, only one has the ghost of Andrew Jackson on the right-hand side.
    The image is called a "watermark," proof that one of these two $20s is legit and the other is not.
    "Hands down, that's the best way to tell," Medford police Sgt. Brent Mak says. "There's no security thread, no watermark, because the counterfeiters can't replicate that."
    But it certainly hasn't kept them from trying — and succeeding — to pass them off as real.
    The Rogue Valley is getting papered with counterfeit bills this year, and trying to keep all that funny money out of circulation is no laughing matter.
    Medford alone is averaging more than a case a day and is on pace to nearly double last year's tally of 302 counterfeiting cases, which was up almost two-thirds from 2011.
    "It's way over the top," Medford police Chief Tim George says. "It's becoming a booming business, and we're trying to stem the tide."
    Throughout the country, $80.7 million in counterfeit currency was passed and detected in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to the U.S. Secret Service, which investigates counterfeiting cases.
    In Oregon, 14,586 fake notes valued at $516,374 were passed. More than 1,000 notes, valued at more than $31,500, were passed and seized in September alone, according to the Secret Service.
    The numbers and values of the passed bills fluctuate month to month, but Oregon as a whole has not seen a significant change in cases recently, says Jon Dalton, resident agent-in-charge at the service's Portland office.
    Medford's location, however, makes it prime for counterfeiters looking to pass bills.
    "You're right there on the California border and right on that I-5 corridor," Dalton says.
    The bills get passed at fast-food restaurants and larger retail businesses to cashiers who are either too busy to check the bills for authenticity or are simply fooled by their appearance, police say.
    Counterfeiters are known to pull into town and hit a half-dozen or more fast-food restaurants in an afternoon of laundering phony bills.
    "They'd go to a restaurant, buy $7 worth of food, pay with a $100 and get $93 back in real cash," Mak says.
    The bills often get discovered when the recipients attempt to deposit the fake money amid their normal receipts at local banks.
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