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Catching counterfeiters: Wave of phoney $20 bills hits Kenai Peninsula

Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Police have discovered more than 30 counterfeit $20 bills circulating in the area, and they are warning all businesses and consumers to be on the lookout.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Sgt. Robb Quelland of the Soldotna Police Department holds an evidence bag containing counterfeit $20 bills. He said the bills started showing up in Soldotna on Jan. 5

Counterfeit activity has been reported at a variety of local businesses, including but not limited to grocery stores, fast food restaurants, movie theaters and automotive stores, according Soldotna Police Sgt. Robb Quelland.

"There's not a lot of rhyme or reason to where we are seeing them," Quelland said.

So far, Soldotna has seen the bulk of the phony bills, according to Kenai Police Sgt. Scott McBride, but a few bills have surfaced in Kenai.

All confiscated counterfeit bills have been $20 notes and only four unique serial numbers have been identified, according to police. Those serial numbers are: GE35705552D, EL38359995C, ID51937197B and IE24548962C.

"These are fairly easily spotted," Quelland said. "They are faded with very little distinction on the face."

McBride said the color and texture of the bills also give them away.

"The U.S. treasury is the only entity that can use that certain color green ink. If it's off-color, that's a clue," McBride said. "They also don't feel like a real bill. A real bill is made with cloth, not paper."

In addition, McBride said to be wary of the etchings around the bill.

"When the treasury makes a bill, they cut fine lines into an engraving plate," McBride said. He explained a counterfeit bill's details essentially look like they were photocopied.

Quelland said local banks, like the Wells Fargo store in Soldotna have been helpful identifying counterfeit bills.

Kathy Gensel, the Soldotna Wells Fargo store manager, said this wave of fake bills has a "waxy" quality.

"I like to tell people to do a fingernail test," Gensel said. "If you run your fingernail across the portrait or the collar of the coat, you'll feel the ridges. If you don't feel any ridges, then you've likely got a counterfeit."

Police first learned of the counterfeiting effort when a Fred Meyer cashier noticed the phony cash on Jan. 5, according to Quelland. Since then, the problem has proliferated.

Schucks Auto Supply in Soldotna had one counterfeit come through its store, manager Bill Hall said.

"My employee noticed it at the end of the evening," Hall said. The store completes 100 to 120 cash transactions per day, according to the manager.

Quelland said police have obtained surveillance video from at least two stores where transactions with counterfeit cash are known to have taken place. Once the videos have been analyzed, Quelland said, the criminal process can begin.

Counterfeiting could carry a class B felony forgery charge, according to state statue.

In the meantime, stores say they are taking extra precautions.

"We're checking all currency," Soldotna Radio Shack store manager Melissa Cates said. The Soldotna Radio Shack learned of three counterfeit bills that came through the store when it deposited money in the bank recently. "We're doing everything from holding it up to the light, running our fingers over the bills to checking it with the pen."

The "pen" to which Cates referred is a counterfeit detecting pen whose ink turns dark when drawn on a fake bill. Such devices can be purchased at most office supply stores often for less than $10.

"We've got the pen and we're checking most all 20s," Hall said. "We're looking for anything that seems odd."

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com.



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