Counterfeiting of U.S. currency is on the rise, according to the Secret Service, the government agency created in 1865 to combat this crime. Counterfeiters were quite prolific in the Civil War Era - by some estimates, 50 percent of the currency in circulation during the war was fake. In the years since, numerous safeguards have been put in place that have reduced that figure drastically. Among them is the periodic redesign of bills to include colors and other advanced safety features. As part of this program, a new $10 bill will be introduced on March 2. You can see what it looks like at http://www.moneyfactory.gov.
Today, only a tiny percentage of the bills in circulation at any given time is counterfeit. But, make no mistake, this crime is alive and well, and on the rise. As is so often the case, the advent of personal computers has opened still another new avenue of crime. Although once the province of skilled, albeit criminal craftsmen, today anyone with a decent laser printer can counterfeit money. Increasingly, juveniles are involved in this crime.
The Treasury Department works hard to make sure that our system of notes and coins is so reliable that people don't usually give it a second thought. Of course, since people take the validity of our money for granted, many do not look at it very closely, and some become victims of counterfeiting. Unfortunately, there is little recourse for the person who realizes they have a counterfeit bill in their wallet, unless they can convince the person or merchant they received it from that they were given a fake bill. Trying to pass it on to the next person is a crime, and the only real option is to call the police and turn it in. The best defense against being victimized is awareness.
Counterfeit notes vary in quality - some are easy to spot, while others are of such high quality that they are only caught by special scanners when the bills pass through the Federal Reserve Bank system. The best fakes come from Columbia, where organized criminal groups make use of the traditional offset-printing systems that have been a counterfeiter's best friend for decades. However, many counterfeits are the work of one or two persons acting alone.
Lodi Police are seeing this last type counterfeiter more and more. The most recent trend is the "washing" of bills. Since businesses often use special pens to check larger bills to see that the paper is genuine, counterfeiters have taken to inserting real one dollar bills into a solution that removes the ink from the paper. After the now-blank bill dries, a laser printer is used to print a larger denomination onto the bill. These bills can be spotted by checking the watermark. In fact, most of the amateur fakes can be detected just by looking at the detail work on the bill. Crooks depend on people not paying attention, just like in so many other crimes.
You can learn more about counterfeit detection at http://www.secretservice.com. Don't be a victim of this expensive game of "musical chairs."
Questions, comments, or observations for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Lt. Questions, comments, or observations for Behind the Badge can be submitted by e-mail to Lt. Bill Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org, by mail to the Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240, or by phone to his voice-mail, (209) 333-6800, Box 2409.