By CRAIG FREILICH
Recent reports of counterfeit money showing up in Canton, Potsdam, Ogdensburg and Massena seem to be adding up, but is it really a crime on the rise in the North Country?
In just the last two months, bogus $10 and $20 bills have shown up in Potsdam, fake $20s and 50s have been passed in Canton, and seven counterfeit bills have been detected in Ogdensburg.
“We’ve had three or four 20s and four 50s,” said Canton Village Police Sgt. Basil Cheney of the recent activity in the village.
The quality was “not too bad,” Cheney said, “especially the 20s” – at least good enough to get by an unwary cashier or teller.
“Most people don’t look very close when they accept them,” Cheney said.
In Ogdensburg, city police Lt. Andrew Kennedy said the rate of bogus bills detected there is slightly ahead of last year, but it is not at a rate that alarms him.
“In 2012, we had 28 bills, and year-to-date we have 29 bills. So it’s up, but it’s not a significant increase,” Kennedy said.
Trying to find out where they come from is not an easy matter.
“We do the initial local investigation, and then pass it to the Secret Service. Often the source is unknown. The Secret Service tracks the types of bills,” Kennedy said.
In Canton, Sgt. Cheney said they made an arrest in one case, a suspect from New York City who had three bogus 20s, but the suspect “was not truthful” as the police sought the origin of the bills.
“Whoever’s doing it, they’re making a lot of them, and they’re pretty decent quality work. We’re not sure exactly how they’re doing it.”
Cheney said banks and merchants should be on the lookout for false $20 and $50 bills in particular, which is what the Canton police have seen.
“I believe hundreds are also going around, but we haven’t seen any. And then we heard about $10 bills, too.”
Cheney said they, too, send the bills they get to the U.S. Secret Service office in Syracuse. In addition to protecting the president and other high-ranking officials, the Secret Service, part of the U. S. Treasury Department, is also responsible for investigating counterfeit U.S. currency.
“Typically, they will be found at retail stores or banks,” Kennedy said. “Oftentimes they won’t be discovered at the cash register, but when they’re preparing the bank deposit.”
He said paper quality or use of the pens retailers have at the register can lead to discovery of a bad bill.
Recent efforts by the U.S. Bureau of Printing and Engraving, which produces the bills, have been aimed at foiling attempts by counterfeiters to make their own bills with the ever-increasing quality of color printers that can produce counterfeits that look like the real thing.
They have been trying different colors that are harder to reproduce, and embedding “watermark” kinds of features that will only show up when the bill is help up to the light, among other measures.
Cheney says there a few easy ways to detect a fake bill, such as looking for a “security thread.”
“Be on the lookout. Check all your bills, as best as you can, especially bigger bills. Look for the security strip, or anything out of place.”
“There’s no strip, when you hold it up to the light. You hit it with the counterfeit pen” – a marking pen used specifically to detect bogus bills – “and it comes up as bad,” Cheney said.
The strip or security thread on a real $20 bill, for instance, runs up the left-hand side from the front. It says USA TWENTY in a couple of different directions. It is revealed by holding the bill up to a light, which will also reveal some other features that are hard to reproduce, such as another small portrait of Andrew Jackson.
Another way that fake bills are revealed is that more than one might have the same serial number – which would happen if someone makes several copies of a real bill on a color copier or printer. Cheney said some of the 50s he saw had the same serial number, as did some of the 20s, though not the same number as the 50s had.
As to whether or not there is any connection between the increase in fake currency and increased drug trade in St. Lawrence County, Cheney said “we have no information leading us to that, but it’s always a possibility.”
“We have no evidence that would lead us to believe that,” he said.