Crime & Courts

Is that cash real? Sheriff’s office warns of counterfeiting operation

If you deal in cash, be leery. Some of it could be fake.

That is the message the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office wants people who live, work and spend in the Wichita area to know after authorities discovered a counterfeiting operation based in Valley Center this week.

At least $10,000 in phony bills is believed to be circulating in Sedgwick County, Lt. Lin Dehning said during a news conference Thursday.

The bills mostly likely to be phony? Twenties, fifties and hundreds.

“If you get a fraudulent charge on your credit card, the chances are your bank will reimburse you that money,” Dehning said.

“If you come up with a counterfeit bill, there’s no way to redeem that. You can’t take it to your bank and say, ‘Yeah I want to exchange this for a good one.’ You’re out the money.”

Dehning said deputies and detectives came across the counterfeiting activity, as well as an identify theft operation, on Tuesday while investigating an indoor marijuana growing operation in the 9500 block of North Oliver. Officers found equipment used in two counterfeiting methods: printing fake bills on paper that’s not used by the U.S. Treasury and printing over lower-denomination bills that have had the ink washed out.

“(Fake) money printed on other paper is usually a little easier to spot. But it could be either way as far as what’s circulating around Wichita right now,” Dehning said. He wouldn’t say how much of it had surfaced in the area.

Valley Center residents Tiera Anderson, 31, and Allen Stowe, 51, were arrested in connection with the bust. As of Thursday, Anderson was being held on $7,000 bond. Stowe had been released. Neither has been charged with a crime, Dehning said.

The Sheriff’s Office is encouraging everyone to check their bills – and any they might consider taking as payment – for authenticity.

Businesses and people who deal in cash, like garage salers, are most at risk, Dehning said.

How to spot a fake

▪ Security strips. Newer-style bills are laced with security threads that can be seen under a light source, so hold your cash up so the sunlight or overhead lighting can shine through. The thread is inscribed with the amount of the note. If you don’t see it or the microscopic inscription doesn’t match the bill amount, it’s probably counterfeit.

▪ Watermarks. While you’re holding the bills above your head, check for the watermark in the lower right-hand corner. It will be an image of the president who’s on the face of the bill. Not there? Probably fake.

▪ Ink. Newer cash also features color-shifting ink that shimmers and changes when you tilt the bills. Look for the special ink on the numerals printed in the lower right-hand corner. Hundreds shift from green to black. Fifties, twenties and tens go from copper to green. The ink on $5 notes doesn’t change.

▪ Serial numbers. Real bills carry serial numbers, and the first letter in them will correspond with the series year of the currency, according to the “Know Your Money” pamphlet from the U.S. Secret Service. On 1996-style bills, A equals 1996, B equals 1999, C equals 2001, D and F equal 2003, and H equals 2006. On 2004-style bills, E and G equal 2004, I equals 2006, and J and L equal 2009.

▪ Paper. Pay attention to how the bill feels between your fingers. Currency paper is 25 percent linen, 75 cotton, and has red and blue fibers randomly embedded throughout, according to the pamphlet. Counterfeit bills often are printed on different paper.

▪ Other features. 2004-style hundreds also have a blue ribbon with bells and “100s” woven into the paper and a color-shifting inkwell with a bell inside. If you tilt a hundred-dollar bill back and forth or up and down, the bells and numbers in the ribbon move.

Bills designed before 1990 don’t contain security threads or microprinting features.

For information about counterfeiting and security measures to avoid it, go to www.uscurrency.gov or www.secretservice.gov.

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‘Once you get stuck with it ...’

Dehning encouraged anyone who comes across counterfeit money to contact local law enforcement agencies immediately to turn it in. It can’t be exchanged anywhere legally, like a bank, for real cash, he said. And trying to pass it off as legitimate currency is a crime.

He also encouraged businesses to continue marking bills with counterfeit detecting pens. But, he added, they should also use other methods to ensure money is real because the pens won’t catch fakes printed on currency paper.

“Once you get stuck with it, there’s no way you can redeem it for actual money,” Dehning said of counterfeit cash. “So we want everybody to be very careful about it.”

Amy Renee Leiker: 316-268-6644, @amyreneeleiker

Identity theft operation

The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office also offered tips for protecting yourself against identity theft because evidence of those crimes was discovered during the bust in the 9500 block of North Oliver.

Detective Erin Wannow said the Sheriff’s Office so far has identified 20 victims connected to the Valley Center operation. But, she said, substantially more are out there, based on the investigation so far.

Here are suggestions to avoid being a victim:

▪ Check your credit reports, bank accounts and credit card statements regularly for fraudulent activity. Wannow suggested pulling credit reports annually and other statements monthly.

▪ Check for credit card applications you don’t recognize on your credit report.

▪ Make sure your financial statements are arriving. If you don’t receive a statement, contact your creditor.

▪ If you think you’re a victim, call your local law enforcement agency.

▪ You can also report identity theft and get additional information at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

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