Counterfeiting cases on the rise

Kristen Jump

On June 19, Rolla police officers were called to investigate an instance of counterfeit checks being passed. Earlier this month, police responded to a report of counterfeit $10 and $20 bills. These are not isolated incidents.

“Since January 2002, we have investigated about 70 currency counterfeiting cases,” said Jason Smith of the Rolla Police Department. “That can be anything from $1 to $100 bills. As far as the counterfeit checks, it’s a pretty regular occurrence, in that you can go down to Wal-Mart or Staples and get check printing materials. We regularly catch those people, too.”

Smith said the Rolla Police Department often teams up with the U.S. Secret Service’s St. Louis branch in counterfeiting cases.

“Counterfeiting is a federal crime, a felony,” Smith said. “There are serious repercussions for committing such an act.”

Smith said the Rolla police and the Secret Service are successful at catching counterfeiters.

“A great deal of the time we are able to find out who passed the counterfeit bills,” Smith said. “With DNA and fingerprint evidence being what it is today, it’s not too hard to catch those people.”

Smith said the people caught passing counterfeit materials aren’t always guilty of a crime.

“Sometimes it is someone who is unaware that they were given a counterfeit bill, while other times it’s the person who made it,” Smith said.

Since 2003, the U.S. government began rolling out currency with new designs and features. According to literature from the Secret Service, the redesigned currency is safer, "because it is harder to fake and easier to check; smarter, to stay ahead of tech-savvy counterfeiters and more secure, to protect the integrity of U.S. currency.”

The new $20 bill was issued in 2003, the new $50 bill in 2004 and the new $10 bill in 2006. The Federal Reserve System and the Department of the Treasury expect to introduce new currency designs every seven to 10 years. A new $5 note was announced June 29, 2006, and is expected to be issued in 2008, and a new $100 will follow.

With the new $20 bills, the Secret Service considers several features important in detecting counterfeits. The security thread on the left side of the bill should read “USA Twenty,” and a small flag should be visible along thread if you hold the bill up to the light. The “20” printed on the lower right corner should shift in color from copper to green when you tilt the bill up and down. The watermark on the bill matches the portrait, and should be visible from both sides of the note.

According to The U.S. Treasury, Federal Reserve and the Secret Service, nationally, counterfeiting of U.S. currency remains at low levels, “due primarily to a combination of improvements in the notes’ security features, aggressive law enforcement and education efforts to inform the public about how to verify their currency.”

Statistics continually show the amount of counterfeit U.S. currency worldwide is less than 1 percent of genuine U.S. currency in circulation.

Banks have further resources available to them to guard against counterfeits. Financial institutions are granted access to the USDollars Web site, also used by law enforcement and fraud investigators, which allows the user to access genuine security features of U.S. currency and conduct a search of the Secret Service’s counterfeit note database. There is no cost, but users must register for access to the site.