MUSKOGEE, Okla. — High tech computer scanners along with ink jet and color laser printers have made counterfeiting currency an easier task than in the past.
While Muskogee Police Department reports indicate several instances of merchants receiving fake bills in recent weeks, both local and state level law enforcement officers report no surge in the number of counterfeit bills reported. David Thompson, Secret Service special agent in charge of the agency’s Oklahoma City bureau, said the issue of counterfeiting has been around on a consistent basis for decades.
“There has not necessarily been an increase in cases of counterfeiting we’ve seen in Oklahoma,” Thompson said. “It’s just something that keeps popping up.”
The U.S. Secret Service was formed in 1865 with the initial mission to thwarting the then widespread counterfeiting of the nation’s currency, he said. While the U.S. Treasury has taken steps to make it harder to imitate official currency, the problem has not gone away, Thompson said.
“These days, we’re generally not seeing giant counterfeiting rings with runners trying to pass the bills,” he said.
It is more often small groups or individuals who are involved in counterfeiting, Thompson said.
These days it is harder to detect fakes due to advancing technology in counterfeit money. Higher resolution, better color duplication and lower prices for printing have made it easier for counterfeiters to make passable fakes, he said.
The Secret Service reported that in fiscal year 2015, nearly 70 percent of the $78 million in counterfeit currency passed in the U.S. was made using digital printing technologies.
Lincoln Anderson, Muskogee Police Department public information officer, said while the department has taken reports of merchants accepting counterfeit currency, there has been no surge in the appearance of fake bills showing up locally. When counterfeit currency does show up, he said there are a couple of denominations passed more often.
“Normally 20s and 100s” are the most common counterfeit bills passed in Muskogee, he said. One step merchants can take to attempt to stop the acceptance of counterfeit currency is to use a special pen that Anderson said many banks provide which can determine if Federal Reserve notes are counterfeit or not.
But Thompson said those pens are not always reliable. He advised business operators to take time to learn what to look for in potential counterfeit currency.
He also said if a business accepts a counterfeit bill, they lose out on the value of the bill accepted.
“In the end, the person defrauded is out, they’re stuck with the expense,” Thompson said.
If a cashier is in doubt, he recommended they question the customer.
“Don’t put yourself in jeopardy. If you even think it might be counterfeit it’s wise to say ‘this appears to be counterfeit,’” he said. “If you’re not comfortable with it, you don’t have to accept it.”
Thompson suggested cashiers who suspect a person of attempting to pass fake currency get a good description of the suspect, including their vehicle, if one is seen.
“Get as much information as you can and get in touch with local officials,” he said.
Local law officers will in turn contact federal officials. Possession of counterfeit currency is punishable by not more than a 20-year prison term and up to a $250,000 fine, or both, Thompson said.
One of the most recent local prosecutions of a person for passing a counterfeit Federal Reserve Note took place in November when the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Oklahoma in Muskogee prosecuted Danielle Rose Escalante, 32, of Garland, Texas. On Nov. 20, Escalante pled guilty to possession of a counterfeit obligation.
The indictment alleged that on or about Dec. 13, 2016, in the Eastern District of Oklahoma, Escalante passed a $100 bill with intent to defraud. The charge arose from an investigation by the District 18 Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, the Pittsburg County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Secret Service. She has not been sentenced.
Earlier in November a Louisiana man was sentenced to 40 months in prison for counterfeiting $100 bills that were used to purchase $1,500 worth of prepaid debit cards. The man used a genuine $100 bill to make 58 counterfeit copies.