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Santa Maria shops hit with counterfeit money

Posted at 9:22 PM, Dec 14, 2018

This is the time of year when cash is exchanging hands at a rapid pace as holiday shoppers race against the clock to purchase gifts. In Santa Maria, that includes counterfeit bills.

A Spencer’s Gifts employee said Friday that her store had recently come across counterfeit bills and a Rue 21 employee said his store had been targeted with counterfeit bills about three months ago.

“They came in and purchased about $400 worth of clothes,” the employee, who did not wish to be identified, said. “They used four $100 counterfeit bills.”

The Rue 21 employee said a couple left with hundreds of dollars worth of items that they paid for with fake money.

“We ran the marker test on it and it passed,” the employee said. “Usually, when you run the marker test, if it’s counterfeit it will come up dark. And it didn’t, it stayed the golden glow.”

For police, it can be tough to track down the crook. By the time the phony bills are detected, the cash has likely been exchanged several times.

“The person that may be handing the bill over may not know it’s counterfeit,” Santa Maria Police Department Beat Coordinator David Culver said.

The U.S. Secret Service estimates there is more than $9 million in counterfeit bills circulating in the U.S. right now.

More fake bills circulate around the holidays when cashiers at stores are busier and have less time to double check, which is what the Rue 21 employee said happened at his store.

“It was our fault, we didn’t check thoroughly, didn’t hold it to the light, check the watermark and strip against the light,” the employee said.

Police said that strip should indicate the denomination of the bill, which is a security measure that’s tough to fake.

Culver said there are other ways to double and triple check the bill’s authenticity.

“While you’re holding the bill up to the light, look to see if there’s a watermark on the right of the portrait and that watermark should match the portrait portrayed on the bill itself,” Culver said.

Anyone found guilty of making counterfeit bills can face up to $15,000 in fines and 15 years in prison.