Experts: ‘Funny money’ easy to spot

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Clovis Police Detective Sonny Smith holds a fake bill up to the light to look for its watermark. Real bills have a ghostlike image of the center portrait that appears in the right-hand segment, he said.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

It appears normal on first inspection but gets fishy later. The ink is smudged in places; the paper is too thick, the texture is slick and edges are trimmed unevenly.

Counterfeit bills in the Clovis area are nothing new, but a recent rise is a reminder to consumers and merchants to take caution during the holiday season, Clovis Police Detective Sonny Smith said.

Since August five counterfeit bills have been turned in to police, and four of those were taken out of circulation in November alone, police records show. Smith said counterfeit money turns up sporadically.

“It’s been going on for years,” he said. “It seems like we get one or two, then we get a whole handful.”

Tracing counterfeits back to the source is difficult because a well-made fake circulates quickly, he said.

“You may not have a clue where you got that $20 bill,” he said.

Specializing in white-collar crimes since 1982, Smith said denominations made by counterfeiters are mostly $10 and $20 bills, probably because they are less likely to be scrutinized than larger bills.

New Mexico has no counterfeiting statute, so cases are prosecuted as felony forgeries, he said.

Smith said it has been years since a suspect was prosecuted for manufacturing money locally, and that case was only successful because the suspect was caught with a pocketful of fake bills.

Clovis Police Evidence Technician Wendell Blair said when a case is closed, counterfeit bills are sent to the U.S. Secret Service.

This year a total of 22 bills have been turned in to police, Blair said, explaining there seem to be more around the holidays.

Ken Huffer, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service’s Phoenix field office, said the goal is to protect the integrity of the U.S. dollar.

“We want to maintain confidence in the dollar,” he said. “Globally people do recognize U.S. dollars so we want to sustain that reputation here in the states and globally.”

Huffer said many steps are taken to safeguard the integrity of minted U.S. currency, and counterfeits are easy to spot.

“(Counterfeit bills are) going to catch your attention because of the way they feel or the way they look. Put (a questionable bill) next to another bill and the differences will jump out right away,” Huffer said.

Cases that surface in smaller, rural areas, Huffer said, are typically the product of inkjet printers. In New Mexico and Arizona those account for about 70 percent of cases.

Counterfeit money also has more commonality in travel corridors, he said.

The Secret Service assists local law enforcement on request, tracks evidence it receives for comparisons with other areas and works to squash large-scale manufacturing.

Persons convicted of counterfeiting in federal court face up to 20 years in prison, he said.

“(Counterfeiting is) one of the only crimes articulated in the constitution,” he said. “That and treason.”

How to spot a fake

Newer, large denomination bills have three quick tells on authenticity:
• When a bill is held up to light, a watermark, or a duplicate of the portrait on the front, shows in the right third of the bill as a ghost-like image.
• A security thread is embedded in the left third of the bill and can be seen when held to light.
• In the bottom right corner the denomination is marked in color-shifting ink which changes in the light as it is moved.

Source: U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Ken Huffer