(TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - A counterfeit $100 bill that recently went undetected by staff in a Smith County office has surprised officials and prompted them to increase efforts to find fake money.
Advanced detection methods had been in place in some departments that handle heavy cash flow, but the Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 office was caught off guard last week.
The counterfeit $100 note was passed among other cash used to pay fines.
Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 Judge James Cowart said he hasn't seen a phony bill come through his office during his 24-year tenure. He said identifying who passed the bill to his clerk would be impossible because several fines were paid in cash that day.
"The counterfeit was so good the person who paid with it might not have even known," he added.
Culpability is difficult to determine in counterfeit cases unless multiple bills can be traced to one source.
County Tax Assessor/Collector Gary Barber said counterfeit bills are rampant but come "in spurts." His office handles more cash than any other county department, so vigilance is required, even for small denominations, he said.
Barber invested in machines that detect counterfeits because the typical method of marking bills with a detection pen is no longer foolproof, and the quality of fakes continues to improve.
Even the machines aren't foolproof, he said.
Another $100 bill recently made it through several detection machine screenings but was caught at the bank, he said. The bill was made with real cotton paper, real ink and had the magnetic strip, but the bank's ultraviolet scan showed the strip was the wrong color, he said.
"That was a very, very good $100 bill," he said.
Robert Caltabiano, Secret Service special agent in charge of the Dallas Field District, said counterfeiters are producing more sophisticated bills, but there hasn't been a spike in production overall.
Caltabiano said individuals, retailers and the financial industry must continuously adapt to forgers' techniques.
"The more you combat (a counterfeit bill), then someone comes along to improve it," he said.
The service was originally created after the Civil War to combat counterfeiting U.S. currency. At the time, one-third to one-half the paper notes in circulation were counterfeit.
Caltabiano said he was unaware of any Secret Service estimates regarding counterfeits in circulation today.
The Secret Service website's "Know Your Money" link offers tips to identify fake notes. Many of the clues about detecting forgeries focus on the distinctness of lines on areas such as the portrait, which usually stands out but is flat on forgeries, and the borders. One good indicator is tiny red and blue fibers embedded in the paper throughout each bill.
Barber has clerks attend presentations by Secret Service agents who give staff a better understanding of what to look for. Other county departments have done the same.
County Judge Joel Baker was amazed at the quality of the recently discovered counterfeit.
"It feels right. It has the right weight. It looks spot on," he said. "I would've taken it."
Commissioners passed around the bill after adjourning. Each shook their head at the counterfeit's appearance. They approved a $100 budget transfer to Cowart's office to cover the counterfeit bill. Cowart's office also will receive a detection machine
How To Detect Counterfeit Money
- Look at the money you receive. Compare a suspect note with a genuine note of the same denomination and series, paying attention to the quality of printing and paper characteristics. Look for differences, not similarities.
- Portrait: The genuine portrait appears lifelike and stands out distinctly from the background. The counterfeit portrait is usually lifeless and flat. Details merge into the background which is often too dark or mottled.
- Federal Reserve and Treasury Seals: On a genuine bill, the saw-tooth points of the Federal Reserve and Treasury seals are clear, distinct, and sharp. The counterfeit seals may have uneven, blunt, or broken saw-tooth points.
- Border: The fine lines in the border of a genuine bill are clear and unbroken. On the counterfeit, the lines in the outer margin and scrollwork may be blurred and indistinct.
- Serial Numbers: Genuine serial numbers have a distinctive style and are evenly spaced. The serial numbers are printed in the same ink color as the Treasury Seal. On a counterfeit, the serial numbers may differ in color or shade of ink from the Treasury seal. The numbers may not be uniformly spaced or aligned.
- Paper: Genuine currency paper has tiny red and blue fibers embedded throughout. Often counterfeiters try to simulate these fibers by printing tiny red and blue lines on their paper. Close inspection reveals, however, that on the counterfeit note the lines are printed on the surface, not embedded in the paper. It is illegal to reproduce the distinctive paper used in the manufacturing of United States currency.
Source: United States Secret Service