PORTLAND, Ore. — Counterfeit cash is turning up everywhere in Portland from convenience stores to garage sales. The U.S. Secret Service says someone even tried to pass fake money to a group of Girl Scouts selling cookies.
“It’s definitely an ongoing problem,” said Robert Kierstead, Special Agent in Charge of the Seattle Field Office.
Federal agents with the Secret Service confiscate roughly $15,000 in counterfeit currency every month in Portland.
“You’ve got to keep an eye out, you’ve got to be vigilant,” said Mike Makboul, owner of Rose City Fresh Deli in downtown Portland.
Last fall, a counterfeit ring hit Makboul’s deli and his convenience store, Mak’s Mini Mart. The crooks passed almost $1,000 in fake cash over a six-month period, according to the business owner.
“They had fives, tens, fifties, hundreds, everything,” said Makboul.
Technology has made it easier to produce fake currency.
“We have inkjet printers, office machine copiers and home printers,” said Kierstead. “People will try a lot of different ways to make counterfeit [money].”
In January, Clackamas County detectives recovered almost $40,000 in counterfeit cash, along with home computers and printers allegedly used to make fake $100 bills. One of the suspects told police he’d passed some of the counterfeit money at a Clackamas Target store and other Portland area retailers, said investigators.
According to the Secret Service, more sophisticated counterfeiters will bleach $1 bills, then print higher denominations on the cotton-linen paper.
Even with this technique, counterfeiters can’t duplicate the raised printing that gives US currency its distinctive texture.
“If that money does not feel right, take a good look at it,” said Kierstead.
The most advanced counterfeiters use a traditional off-set press to print fake bills.
In 1984, the Secret Service seized $5.5 million in “very high quality” counterfeit money from a home in Brownsville, Oregon. Investigators said they found printing equipment, including an offset press.
Four people were arrested. At the time, the seizure was the largest ever in Oregon and one of the largest in the country.
Over the years, the U.S. Treasury has added new security features like color-shifting ink that changes from copper to green, watermarks that can be seen from both sides and a security thread embedded in the paper.
“There’s a lot of features that are evident, that are prominent in genuine currency that do not exist in counterfeit currency,” said Kierstead.
Anyone caught printing fake money can face federal charges and up to 20 years in prison.
If someone tries to pass a counterfeit, don’t accept it. Instead, get a good description of the person and their vehicle, then call police or the Secret Service.
If you accept a fake bill, you are stuck with it. There’s no refund.
“At the end of the day, it comes out of my pocket and goes in the criminal’s pocket. That’s the bottom line,” said Makboul.