NEWS

Seminar provides businesses with tools to fight fraud

Tony Brown

When used to describe money, the word "counterfeit" summons images of shady-looking characters skillfully engraving lead plates and running off near-perfect $100 bills on an old-fashioned sheet-fed press in the basement of some crime lord's mansion.

Then some ruggedly handsome goon in a $3,000 suit picks up a bill, examines it through a jeweler's loupe, and declares, "perfect."

Old mobster movies notwithstanding, it hardly ever works that way, says Secret Service Agent Danny Farris.

Sure, bogus bills are common enough, and about $20,000 in funny money gets turned in every month to the Secret Service's Kansas City field office, where Farris works. But counterfeiters, he said, are far more likely to be crude criminals who run off badly reproduced bills using cheap paper and desktop printers than the upscale outlaws of Hollywood lore.

St. Joseph Police Department Detective Richard Shelton recently spoke to a group of area merchants, bankers and business owners during a business fraud prevention seminar hosted by the Financial Crime Unit of the police department. Participants also heard presentations on how they can protect their businesses from such crimes as forgery, bad checks, embezzlement and account clearinghouse fraud, or ACH.

Shelton said ACH, in which criminals use purloined routing numbers and access codes to electronically sidetrack automatic payroll deposits and other transactions, is becoming an especially popular and all-to-often effective type of high-tech theft.

Shelton also warned of a new generation of forgers who use computer programs like VersaCheck to generate seemingly legitimate checks from stolen deposit slips and other documents. He urged business owners to consider thwarting such crimes through the use of electronic thumbprints and other forms of enhanced physical identification, a group of technologies security experts have dubbed "biometrics."

But when it comes to counterfeiters, Farris said, a little self-education and a few simple techniques are usually all it takes to avoid getting taken. Banks, he said, are almost never fooled by counterfeit money because clerks become expert at instantly feeling the difference.

Ink jet and toner printers are simply incapable of accurately reproducing easily observable features incorporated into genuine U.S. currency, Farris said. Two of the more obvious giveaways include bills with identical serial numbers and bills containing watermark portraits that don't match the central image — a $5 Abraham Lincoln watermark on an Alexander Hamilton 10-spot, for example.

In addition, all U.S. currency except the $1 bill contains a security thread, a small, ultraviolet-sensitive strip inscribed with the denomination and visible only when help up to a light source. Each denomination has its thread in a different location. For detailed descriptions of each, go to www.secretservice.gov.

Both Farris and Shelton warned seminar participants not to trust counterfeit-detecting pens, which are supposed to leave a dark mark on bad bills and no mark at all on real money.

The problem is that many counterfeiters use "bleached" bills, often fives, from which most of the printing has been chemically removed. The legit U.S. Treasury paper is then copied over with an image taken from a higher-denomination bill.

Anyone who thinks they may have received counterfeit money should call law enforcement authorities immediately, Farris said, and, if possible, supply officers with a description of the suspect. License plate numbers are especially helpful in tracking down offenders, he said.

Customers who inadvertently pass counterfeit currency to someone who detects it should remain in the store until authorities arrive, Shelton said.

"Someone who is guilty is not going to hang around and wait for officers," he quipped. "But if they run to their car and drive away, well, that's something else."

Maryville Daily Forum