A surge in the number of cases involving counterfeit $20 bills over the past two months prompted Wichita police on Tuesday to issue an alert to businesses that handle a lot of cash.
Crooks have been targeting clubs, fuel outlets and restaurants over the past several weeks, said Lt. Clark Wiemeyer of the financial crimes section.
"We see some very high-quality, very good-looking counterfeit bills," Wiemeyer said. "By general appearance, people will take them all day long — and evidently they are."
There have been 19 cases of counterfeit $20s this month, he said, and 33 in July, he said. Many of the bills are $5 bills that have had their ink erased in some sort of chemical wash, Wiemeyer said.
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The counterfeiters then print a bill with a higher denomination on the blank paper. As a result, he said, the fake bills will pass the "pen test" — referring to the special marker businesses frequently use to check whether a bill is authentic.
That makes checking the bills for watermarks, color-changing ink and the security strip vital.
"Those three tests are a sure way to identify counterfeit bills," Wiemeyer said. "If you do those three tests, they will not pass."
The watermarks are images on the bill, he said. That means a counterfeit $20 may well have an Abraham Lincoln watermark but an Andrew Jackson portrait.
Newer $5 bills have a security strip of large 5's embedded in them.
By using the counterfeit bills at businesses that handle a lot of cash, Wiemeyer said, the counterfeiters are counting on the possibility that the employees will be so busy they won't bother to check for watermarks or security strips.
But some fake money has been showing up at garage sales, he said, so residents should be vigilant in checking money they are given.