Counterfeit money circulating locally – how you can spot a fake

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After recent reports from national media, about how easy it might be to make counterfeit money, Sterling Police say local businesses have recently received counterfeit $20 and $50 bills.

Police said they were not sure who might have been the source of the fake cash.

Sterling Police reported similar incidents in September 2013, when two businesses reported customers using fake $10 and $20 bills to make purchases. Sterling Police also arrested three people for allegedly trying to use fake $20 bills at Walmart in January 2013. A Rock Falls woman faced charges for allegedly passing counterfeit money in Whiteside County in late 2012.

Clinton Police reported problems with counterfeit bills passed there in December 2012 and January 2013, and similar incidents around the same time the year before.

More than half of the $88.7 billion in counterfeit U.S. currency, recovered in 2013, was made using inkjet or laser printers, according to Bloomberg.  Compare that to counterfeit currency in other countries, which is mostly created on commercial-grade offset presses, according to The Atlantic.

There are a few telltale signs of a fake bill, according to the U.S. Secret Service:

Blurry images and borders are a giveaway, as the real thing has clear edges on the borders and images. Watch the portrait, serial numbers and the Federal Reserve and Treasury seals for sharp edges, clean lines and vivid color.

Real bill on the left and blurry fake on the right - photos from US Secret Service

Real bill on the left and blurry fake on the right – photos from US Secret Service

A master counterfeiter, who was eventually busted by the Secret Service, called U.S. bills the easiest of all to counterfeit because they are not printed on polymer, ABC reported.

U.S. currency is printed on paper that is a blend of cotton and linen. There are tiny red and blue fibers, that look like flecks, embedded in real bills; counterfeit money will not have those fibers, or they will be printed on the surface instead of being embedded in the paper, the Secret Service website said.

Those pens that store clerks use to test your money have limited effectiveness in detecting fake money. The pens have ink in them that reacts with the starch in the paper. That helps if the bills are printed on plain paper; but many counterfeiters have turned to washing real, small-denomination bills and printing larger denominations on them.

The most widely passed fake is the $20 bill.

Sterling Police say anyone with information about the counterfeit money passed there should call Sterling Police at (815) 632-6640 or Whiteside County Crime Stoppers at (815) 625-7867.