Counterfeit currency spikes in eastern Iowa

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DUBUQUE, Iowa — Counterfeit currency has increased in circulation in eastern Iowa, according to authorities. They’re educating the public on how to avoid falling victim to fake money scams.

Dubuque Police Department Lt. Joe Messerich told the Telegraph Herald that officials identified a “significant spike in counterfeit cases” in the area, particularly last fall.

The Dubuque County Attorney’s Office saw a 128 percent jump in felony forgery cases last year, with 73 cases filed compared to 32 in 2016.

“We see various types of forged bills,” Messerich said. “Some are fairly sophisticated, and some are not. Some you can see why people would be fooled. Others look like Monopoly money.”

He said some forged bills are made locally, while another source is the “dark web.” It’s a part of the internet only accessible using specialized software that allows users to remain anonymous.

Messerich said they’ve also seen a recent trend of person-to-person forgeries through services including Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. He said they’re working to educate the public on how to spot fake money.

“Awareness is the biggest thing for us,” Messerich said. “Just recognizing the signs of counterfeit bills.”

Dubuque County Attorney Ralph Potter said counterfeiters are focusing on smaller denominations such as $10 or $20 bills, which used to not be the case because of the time and effort involved.

While the U.S. Secret Service is the federal agency that polices counterfeiting schemes, local authorities often do the bulk of the work, said Messerich.

“It’s such a prevalent crime that any time there’s a fake bill passed, the Secret Service isn’t going to come and work that,” he said.

Potter said the issue extends beyond the city.

“I’ve talked to prosecutors in Johnson (County) and Davenport,” Potter said. “Everybody’s having the same problem.”

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