Up through Friday morning, Oct. 19, the Minocqua Police Department had collected 15 counterfeit bills in $5, $10 and $20 denominations over the course of the first few weeks in October.
“We’re also aware of a couple other bills that have been identified as counterfeit but have not been turned over to us,” Chief Andrew Gee said.
“I think all in all, we’re at 17 or 18 bills that have shown up in various bank deposits and merchant tills since Oct. 7,” he said.
Gee said since he’s been chief, the department has dealt with counterfeit bills, but not to this extent.
“Each year, we might get a half dozen complaints for the entire year,” he said. “We collect those bills and send them off to the Secret Service.”
He said this series of counterfeit bills passed in the Minocqua area, some as recently as in the last several days, is an unusual occurrence.
“And it’s a serious occurrence,” he said.
Gee said large festivals, such as Beef-A-Rama at the end of last month, are an opportunity for someone who would want to do something like this.
“It provides an easy avenue to do that because you have a lot of vendors at a community festival that do a cash only business and it’s very busy and very hectic,” he said. “You do have people who aren’t used to money handling doing money transactions.”
Another scenario Gee mentioned is a local person who’s been manufacturing some counterfeit money and passing it by individual bills to local businesses.
“Based on what I’m seeing, I would tend to lean toward the latter,” he said.
Gee talked about some of the ways to decipher a phony bill from a real one.
“They’re all the newer style bills with the large head on them,” he said. “On the $20 bills, the biggest telltale sign is if you hold that bill up to the light you should see along the left side of the bill a vertical magnetic strip.”
Gee said if that strip isn’t there, it’s not a real $20 bill.
Watermarks are something else to look for on the $5, $10, and $20 bills.
Gee said if you lay a bill flat on a counter, you won’t see a watermark on it.
“But if you hold it up to a light, on a $5 bill, you’ll see a watermark and the number 5 on the right side of the bill and then the number 5 three times vertically on the left side of the bill,” he said.
On the $10, Alexander Hamilton’s face is visible on the watermark on the right side of the bill and on the $20, Gee said a person should be able to see a watermark with Andrew Jackson’s face on the right side along with the magnetic strip.
“Those are the two easiest telltale signs to indicate whether you have an actual bill or a fake bill,” he said.
When things are busy, however, it’s not always possible to have time to do all that. Gee said there is another quick way for businesses to tell the difference in those busy situations.
“A marking pen for bills is an available tool for anyone to use,” he said. “You can get a marking pen at any office supply store.”
There are different types of pens but Gee said they’re all designed to do one thing: identify a phony bill.
“With some pens, if you make a mark on a real bill, the ink won’t appear,” he said. “If you make a mark on a fake bill with that same pen, a mark will slowly start to appear.”
He said it may take a few seconds for that mark to appear, but ultimately it will.
Another type of pen used is one that makes a black mark on a counterfeit bill that turns to the color brown.
“If it’s a real bill, it will almost immediately turn to a gold color or a light brown color,” Gee said.
He said the department investigates the counterfeit bills to the extent it can before turning them over to the Secret Service, which oversees the investigation of counterfeit money in the United States.
With the number of these counterfeit bills the local community is seeing, Gee said the focus is to educate business owners, banks, and the employees in places such as bars or drive-throughs at fast food restaurants on what to look for in a counterfeit bill.
“We need their help to find these,” he said.
“As they collect one of these and identify it they can’t assume the person who used that bill knows it was fake.”
Instead, Gee said, they should contact his department.
“We can come down and have a conversation with that person to find out a little about that bill and what they may know about it,” he said.
Ultimately, Gee said all the counterfeit bills will be turned over to the Secret Service and they will do some comparison and tracking of those bills against other bills they’ve received from other law enforcement agencies or banks throughout the area.
“If people have information on this or other crimes, they can call the Minocqua Police Department direct,” he said.
“If a person wants to stay completely anonymous they can call the WeTip line at 1-800-78-CRIME.”
Rewards of up to $1,000 are paid for information that leads to a conviction in criminal cases.
“We would love to catch the person who is doing this and stop them sooner than later,” Gee said.
Brian Jopek may be reached at email@example.com.