On the lookout for counterfeit bills

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - A Bakersfield woman says she ended up with a counterfeit $5 bill when she got change from a local business. The next store spotted the bogus bill, but she's still stuck with the fake money. Experts say shoppers should be on the lookout for counterfeit money.

Eyewitness News discovered the problem's bigger than you might think.

Bakersfield Police Sgt. Joe Grubbs said in the first three quarters of 2013, the officers sent 71 reports about counterfeit bills to the Secret Service. That federal agency handles counterfeit cases. Grubbs said officers figure there are probably many more cases that local police never hear about.

Beth Cheatwood's situation happened Sunday. She was shopping in Oildale, and didn't notice anything different when a clerk made change that included a couple $5 bills.

Minutes later, she used one of the bills for a purchase at another store, and that clerk checked every bill she'd handed them. That employee spread out all the money on the counter, and used a special pen to make marks.

"She stopped, picked up the five and said something to the man behind her," Cheatwood explains. The clerk checked with a manager. "They came over and said, 'I'm sorry, this is a counterfeit bill.' I had never seen a counterfeit bill."

Cheatwood said the employees seemed sympathetic, and suggested she take the phony money back where she got it. But, Cheatwood said the first store wouldn't take it back, arguing she couldn't prove that's where she got it.

Checking around, Eyewitness News heard from several local merchants who say they carefully inspect money they're paid with.

"We have a marker pen here, which whenever you mark on the bill, if it is a good bill, like this one, it leaves just a yellow mark," Curtis Conway demonstrated. He said any bogus bill will end up with a darker mark.

He owns The Curiosity Shop in downtown Bakersfield. Conway said just once, several years ago, his bank spotted a counterfeit $100 bill when he made a deposit. Conway said the bank confiscated the bogus bill, and he was out $100.

Looking at the $5 Cheatwood ended up with, the mark from the second store was darker. And the paper of the bill did seem to feel different.

"It feels like it's been laundered or something," she said. But, insisted the money really didn't look different from the real thing.

Cheatwood said the second store she went to on Sunday told her it's their standard practice now to use the special marker pens on all the bills they take in.

"They did tell me that they check their money with that pen because there's so many counterfeit $5 bills right now," she said.

Grubbs said it seems businesses are being more careful to check for counterfeit money. Some use the markers, and he's seen some stores with a black light device at the register.

"You can slide the bill under the black light, and that's (also) good for identification," Grubbs said. "Then you can see the security features in these items."

He said there are security features in bills and things like a driver's license.

A Secret Service agent also suggested checking their website. The section called "Know your Money" includes diagrams of how to check for authenticity of bills, and shows details that can be checked to spot phony money.

Grubbs said it can be pretty simple for a shopper to spot a bad bill, if you take a minute.

"The feel of it," he said, if the bill just doesn't feel right. "Or take a look at it in the light for the strips, there's some security strips that are located on the bill."

But, he said it's important to do that when you are given any cash.

"Just take a good look at it," Grubbs said. "Pause, take a good look at what you're taking in."

Cheatwood said that's what a Kern County Sheriff's officer told her, too. It seems like a lot of trouble, especially if you're in a hurry. But, Cheatwood wants others to know about these risks, and to get the advice she's now hearing. It's advice that she will follow.

"I'll check all fives, 10s and 20s," she said. "To make sure they're not counterfeit. And, I'll do it before I leave the store."

Cheatwood said she's also still in contact with the corporate office for store she believes gave her the bad bill in change. She's been told they'll get back to her, and she's hoping she'll get her money back.