Phony $20 bills have surfaced at several local businesses
In the spirit of “bah humbug,” it appears some individuals have been making purchases in the Methow Valley using counterfeit money.
Police in Twisp and Winthrop said they have looked into reports of fake $20 bills that have surfaced in the valley in recent weeks. They have notified the U.S. Secret Service, the federal agency that investigates counterfeiting.
The counterfeit bills appear to be smaller denominations — $1 or $5 bills — that have been chemically washed and reprinted as $20 bills, said Doug Johnson, acting Winthrop marshal.
“They are converting smaller money to larger money. This is real money,” Johnson said. Because it is the material used by the U.S. Treasury to print bills, detector pens that merchants sometimes use to identify fake currency don’t work, since those pens are designed to detect bills printed on non-authentic material.
Johnson said last week there was “a spike” in local reports of counterfeit money earlier in the month, but none in the past week or so. He declined to say how much money was involved. He said all of the reports he has received have come from local businesses.
Twisp Police Chief Paul Budrow said the counterfeit money was brought to his attention by North Cascades National Bank in Twisp. He said he was aware of eight counterfeit $20 bills that have been identified in the past month or so.
Johnson said the Secret Service was contacted a couple of weeks ago after two instances of counterfeit money came to light. “Our investigation has been forwarded to the U.S. Secret Service,” Johnson said.” In my experience … they are extremely responsive and track all these things.”
He said creating counterfeit bills by chemical washing, which bleaches the ink from the bills so that they can be reprinted as a different denomination, is “more sophisticated” than photocopying money. “To chemically wash money, you have to have criminal monetary expertise,” Johnson said.
Budrow said he does not think the money is being produced locally, and the bills may be entering the valley through drug-related transactions. If an individual or business ends up with a counterfeit bill, it is their loss, Budrow said.
Johnson said local banks and many merchants are aware of the recent appearance of counterfeit bills. “Once merchants get aware that we have problems they begin to pay a little more attention to bills coming in,” he said.
There are numerous security and design features in every bank note to help determine if it is genuine, including embedded security threads that glow under UV light, color shifting ink and watermarks. A detailed description of security and design for U.S. currency can be found at www.uscurrency.gov.