Fake money

Counterfeiting money is a detail-oriented art, but one Arizona man who attempted it wasn't quite scrupulous enough about his fake bills, according to the Prescott Daily Courier: He attempted to pass a forged $100 bill with a picture-perfect image of Benjamin Franklin -- but a watermark of Abraham Lincoln.

And Honest Abe gave him away.

At around 8 p.m. July 18, the man tried to buy $9 of merchandise at Goodwill, where a cashier suspicious of the mismatched watermark called the police. The customer beat a hasty retreat from the store, but within half an hour tried to pull the same stunt at a Safeway -- attempting to buy some cheap groceries to break his fraudulent C-note and get genuine bills as change. And, local police told DailyFinance, he later tried the same move at an Albertsons Grocery Store -- but was again thwarted.

The suspect left his bogus bills with the clerks at all three locations.

Watermark Bust

Among the hardest things for a counterfeiter of U.S. currency to duplicate well is the feel of the special rag-paper our cash is printed on. The counterfeiting technique employed to make the phony bills in this case involves "washing" a lower-denomination bill with bleach -- a $1 or, as in this case, a $5 -- then printing the image of a larger-denomination bill -- in this case, a $100 -- on the clean paper. This creates money that usually feels authentic to the touch and appears en pointe in coloration.

But this particular bone-headed move was a revelation for Lt. Ken Morley of the Special Operations Bureau for the Prescott Police Department.

"This is the first time I've seen it," Morley said. "I've seen well-done counterfeit bills with sophisticated printing, and some are really horrendous: they paste corners of a $20 on a $1 bill -- honest to God, I've seen that. It's so bogus."

This crook's technique, Morley said, "falls somewhere in between" on the counterfeiting spectrum.

But ultimately, the incongruous faces were a dead giveaway -- which is, after all, why the Treasury added the feature to new bills.

"All it would take is someone to hold that up to the light," Morley said. "The ghost head of Abe Lincoln gives it away on a $100 bill."

Copy That -- Or Not

"With the constant advancement in technology and the higher quality of machine copiers, counterfeiting becomes easier to do," said Joseph A. LaSorsa, a Secret Service retiree who heads the private investigation firm J.A. LaSorsa & Associates. "They are, however, limited in the use of correct paper, unless they resort to the use of the 'bleaching' technique."

But many copiers are so advanced now that they won't allow you to photocopy money. Morley discovered this himself when he tried to send out a copy of one of the counterfeit bills and the machine wouldn't allow it.

Such difficulties could have been what led the suspect to attempt the bleaching technique, which is not flawless -- even disregarding the watermark issue. The bills were reportedly "softer" and lighter in color than legitimate greenbacks -- likely due to the washing, Morley said, which can make the paper more supple.

"The officer that had the bill said it felt a little bit different," Morley said. "Had I been in a grocery line and I'm the clerk, would I have noticed? Maybe not."

Hard Times for Everyone

Morley suggested that in today's weak economy, crooks may be trying to get a little more bang for their fake buck. The most commonly counterfeited bill is the $20, because those incite less scrutiny than $100s.

"They slide under the radar," Morley said. But the greater the denomination, the greater the profit margin. And these are desperate times.

"There's always someone trying to make a fast buck," Morley said, "But the fact that it's a $100 bill might be related to the economy."

For now the suspect remains at large, and the trail in Prescott has gone cold.

"We haven't had another complaint," Morley said. "We might have scared him off from here, but I'm sure he's trying some place else."

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it's great they caught this guy, stealing from our gov.

August 05 2012 at 1:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This technique has also been used by fraud artists to modify personal checks that fall into thier hands. They wash out the payee and amount lines and substitute a phoney name, for which they have a bogus I.D., and new amount. There are pens available at any office supply store that write in ink resistant to bleaching.

August 02 2012 at 10:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kimberly Chapman Har

How about spending your time earning money rather than trying to make and perfect counterfeit bills? There is less risk and a lot more satisfaction when you do a good job raking in the loot legitimately. That is, if you can find a job! I will just bet that this man would be able to get a nice little job in a grahpic's firm. He definitely has the experience!

August 02 2012 at 5:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The strip also reads $5 instead of $100 and is a different location in the$100 than the $5 and reads a different color in a detector.

August 02 2012 at 3:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This isn't exactly a new counterfeiting method. They've been floating around NJ for a couple years now. Usually they have the '5' watermark instead of Abe, though.

August 02 2012 at 12:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There is one in the Wasilla Police Dept. for safe keeping

August 01 2012 at 9:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kathy Wilding

I received one of these bills about 2 years ago. I was counting money and I seen Abe in the bill. I turned over the bill to authorities.

August 01 2012 at 8:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why is everybody so upset about fake money, Bernanke has been printing worthless crap for a few years now.....

August 01 2012 at 8:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

DID ANYONE notice that there was no space between UNITEDSTATES OR OFAMERICA.

August 01 2012 at 8:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Who looks at the stupid watermark?? Retail stores and such don't pay cashiers enough to be so detail oriented! If they want somebody qualified to discern real money from fake manning their cash registers, they should pay an hourly wage commensurate with the work!

August 01 2012 at 7:44 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to WMEY's comment

If a cashier is trained the right way (like the one in the article) it takes 2 seconds to look at a bill to see the water marks. I have been in retail for over 30 years now and let me tell you it is much easier to spot conterfit bills now then it was way back. You must not work in any type of retail store. It has nothing to do with how much a cashier makes. In some stores you may be suprised how much they make.

August 01 2012 at 7:57 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Cashiers are the first and last line of workers for most stores - often, the only employee a customer interacts with. We're expected to be able to direct customers to departments they want, prevent customers from rolling unpaid merchandise out the door, be quick and accurate with every transaction, spot counterfeit or suspicious bills, checks, credit cards, and traveler's checks, have our till balance to the penny, shut down money-changing and ticket-switching scams, keep the front of the store clean and presentable, remember the current week's promotions and sales, bag things so that goods don't crush or break in the car, and on top of all that, be polite and professional with even the most irritating, clueless, and abusive of customers.

Considering I can be fired for taking too many counterfeits, I know quite a few ways to check a $100, depending on which year it was printed, from the red and blue colored fibers in the paper to the color-shifting ink. I check the watermark of every $50 and $100, and the $20s if something feels even remotely off - bleached bills and self-printed bills don't feel at all like a regular bill. Google "how to spot a counterfeit" and follow the Secret Service link.

August 02 2012 at 1:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply