Investigators looking into counterfeit bills

The employees at Smoker Friendly in Craig knew something was wrong with the customer's $100 bill as soon as they saw it.

The paper was thick and the bill wasn't very bendable, manager JoDeena Bullock said.

Smoker Friendly is just one of the Craig businesses to have been hit with counterfeit bills in the past week. Village Inn, Cook Chevrolet, McDonald's and Community First Bank also have seen counterfeit bills.

By Friday afternoon, the U.S. Secret Service, the agency that investigates counterfeiting, had not been contacted concerning the crimes here, said Special Agent Lon Garner with the Colorado Secret Service.

But he plans to have his Western Slope duty agent make some calls to find out what's happening in Craig.

"Since the advent of desktop publishing, we've seen an increase in counterfeiting," Garner said.

A Smoker Friendly employee received the fake $100 two days after the tobacco store received a $50, Bullock said. The $50 note had white corners that belied its illicit origins, but she didn't realize the bill was fake until a bank employee told her.

The fake $100 was passed by a regular customer in a Ford F-150 at the store's drive-through window. An employee gave the customer a carton of cigarettes while Bullock called the police. But the driver threw the carton of cigarettes out the window and sped away while Bullock was calling.

A customer in line behind the alleged counterfeiter got the license plate number of the F-150, Bullock said.

Craig police officers did not comment in the case.

Village Inn manager Denny Goucher said her restaurant had received a fake $5 bill, but employees did not know who had passed it.

Village Inn reported the fake bill to the police.

Cashiers across Craig have been checking all bills with color-changing pens. Marks turn from copper to green when the note is tilted.

Of the $680 billion of U.S. currency in circulation, less than 0.5 percent is counterfeit, Garner said. Most counterfeit money is created overseas. The crime is more of a problem in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

"It's serious but not a big problem in this state," Garner said.

Counterfeiting is punishable with a sentence of 15 years in a federal penitentiary.

The Secret Service refers to counterfeit bills that people unknowingly get as "floaters." Garner advised the recipients of floaters to compare the suspicious bill to a $1 bill, because counterfeiters rarely fake such small bills.

Compare the printing and detail of the bills, Garner said. Hold the bill to the light and look for the security thread on new series notes. The paper should be printed on rag content interwoven with red and blue fibers.

If the bill appears fake, give it to police, he said.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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