It looks like real money. It even feels like real money.
But thousands of dollars in fake “movie money” is circulating throughout the mid-valley, according to Lt. Steve Dorn of the Albany Police Department.
“It’s gotten a lot worse over the last three years,” he said.
On Thursday, Dorn spread out $5s, $20s and $100s on a table as Kasey McCornack, a property and evidence specialist with the department, unloaded it from a large paper bag. Although it wouldn’t legally buy a bottle of soda pop, it represented several thousand dollars in cash.
By law, “fake” money can only be printed on one side of a piece of paper. It should also use different-colored inks and not be the same size as legal tender.
But in recent years, internet sites have exploded with “movie money,” which resembles the real thing except for the warning “Prop Money” or “For Motion Picture Use Only” on the bills' edges. A stack of cash totaling $10,000 can be purchased for as little as $10 online.
“Some of the money turned in to us has been found by someone, but most of it comes from stores or garage sales where bills were passed,” Dorn said. “It’s happening everywhere in the area, but most often we’re seeing the bills show up at convenience stores.”
He also said some people try to pass them at Oregon Lottery game sites.
“We’ve made several arrests,” Dorn said. “Usually, we catch them trying to pass one or two bills, but they have others on them. They get sloppy and aren’t paying attention.”
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As garage sales begin popping up this summer, Dorn expects the amount of fake money to increase.
“People just need to be extra careful and know what each denomination of real money looks like,” he said.
According to Dorn, a significant amount of Chinese money used to train bank tellers has been passed locally, too, despite the Chinese writing in red ink. Full-color graphics of what to look for are available for free from the Secret Service website at https://www.secretservice.gov/data/KnowYourMoney.pdf.
Dorn said there doesn’t seem to be a particular pattern as to when bills might circulate more frequently. “It comes and goes,” he said. “There doesn’t appear to a specific month when activity is higher.”
He warns the public to be especially careful when making transactions through such sites as Craigslist.
“Only meet in a well-lighted and well-occupied area,” Dorn said. That can provide the person some safety if counterfeit bills are presented and the exchange turns sour.
Local law enforcement agencies have made several arrests concerning fake bills. Dorn said suspects can be charged with first-degree forgery and first-degree theft, both felonies. And if the amount is large enough, the crimes become federal and the Secret Service deals with them. All of the counterfeit money intercepted locally is placed in plastic sheeting and sent to the Secret Service, along with incident documentation, Dorn said.
The mid-valley is not alone in dealing with this issue. Newspaper reports from Portland to the California border indicate that the problem is widespread. The Secret Service estimates the amount of fake money circulated in the Portland-Vancouver area is more than $1 million annually.
Counterfeit money can be turned in at any area law enforcement agency or by contacting www.secretservice.gov. The Portland office of the Secret Service may also be contacted by phone at 503-326-2162.