University businesses feel uptick of fake money

University of Minnesota businesses are alert to the prospect of counterfeit bills and take measures to avoid accepting them.

Molly Novak

Carson Powers never had formal training, but he knows a counterfeit bill when he sees one.

Since he started working at Erbert and GerbertâÄôs in Coffman Union last fall, heâÄôs been handed bills with crooked font and even bills that had turned bright blue after âÄúgoing through the wash.âÄù

Powers said he deals with counterfeits âÄúon a fairly regular basis,âÄù and other businesses in the area had run into a similar problem.

There has been an uptick in counterfeit $10 and $20 bills this month, Marlene Woo, Stadium Village Commercial Association board member and manager of the Stadium Village TCF Bank branch, said during the associationâÄôs January meeting.

According to Secret Service agent Louis Stephens, itâÄôs a common occurrence nationally around the holiday season because of the amount of money being circulated.

At the ArbyâÄôs on the University of MinnesotaâÄôs East Bank, general manager Jack LaBrasseur began warning his staff to watch for fakes as early as October.

âÄúIâÄôve got my staff pretty well trained,âÄù LaBrasseur said.

LaBrasseurâÄôs store uses a detection pen. But he said that only catches about 75 percent of counterfeit bills, so the staff learned to also hold bills up to a light. If the image of a president shows through, itâÄôs the real thing.

Powers said fake bills can also feel âÄúwrong.âÄù

âÄúIt feels like notebook paper or copier paper.âÄù

When Powers canâÄôt confirm heâÄôs been handed a fake bill, he asks if the customer has a different form of payment. LaBrasseur will tell the customers their food will be ready in five minutes and then calls the police.

âÄúItâÄôs a federal crime,âÄù he said. âÄúAnd unfortunately, what typically happens is they pass it on my staff, and weâÄôre stuck with the loss.âÄù

The store managed to avoid accepting a counterfeit for a year, LaBrasseur said.

In 2010, the Secret Service made 3,028 total arrests for counterfeiting offenses, Stephens said.

The Secret Service traces fake bill producers through forensic exams of the defects, Stephens said. The counterfeiter will make similar defects on bills, and if the Secret Service receives a bill containing a defect not on record, they will create a new record of that type of defect.

In 2009, 0.5 percent of the $770 billion in circulated currency was estimated to be counterfeit, Stephens said in an email. Of that, more than 60 percent was produced digitally âÄìâÄì which can be as simple as using a computer, a scanner and a printer.

The punishment for knowingly attempting to use counterfeit money is a fine, up to 15 years in prison or both, according to the Secret Service website.