Official Spree Dollars have preprinted numbers, stamped expiration dates and are darker in color than counterfeit Spree Dollars.

Official Spree Dollars have preprinted numbers, stamped expiration dates and are darker in color than counterfeit Spree Dollars.

Spending Spree

Police investigating phony Chamber of Commerce certificates

Spot the counterfeit

• Official Spree Dollars have preprinted numbers.

• Official Spree Dollars have a stamped expiration date.

• Official Spree Dollars are a darker green than Counterfeit Spree Dollars.

— The Craig Police Department opened an investigation Thursday after the Chamber of Commerce reported that three phony Spree Dollars certificates, totaling $150, were used at local stores.

"They're almost exact duplicates," Chamber Executive Director Christina Currie said of the fake bills' similarity to authentic Spree Dollars.

Spree Dollars are issued in denominations ranging from $5 to $50 and are used essentially the same as cash at most, if not all, Craig stores and businesses. The Chamber guarantees the certificates as currency and will temporarily be responsible for paying out money lost through use of the illegitimate bills.

Until Thursday, there had never been a problem with the Spree Dollars program, an offering designed to stimulate local shopping and spending.

The three $50 certificates were used at Craig convenience stores. The Chamber learned about the fake bills, most likely spent within the past week, after they were returned to the Chamber for payment.

It is unknown whether there are more forged certificates in the community, Currie said.

"I expect there are probably many more," she said. "There's no reason to think not."

The amount of legitimate Spree Dollars circulating in the community at any one time varies. This year, the Chamber sold about $300,000 worth of the certificates, and had as much as $94,000 out at one point Thursday.

A side-by-side comparison between a legitimate Spree Dollars bill and the fake certificates found Thursday show subtle differences that reveal flaws in the forged bills.

Near the top of a legitimate bill is a pre-printed number, a number missing from the fake bills.

Also, the expiration dates on the fake bills are hand-written, a derivation from the legitimate bills, which have either stamped or printed dates.

The final difference is the coloring of the certificates' borders. A legitimate certificate has a dark green border while the phony bills have a light green print.

Craig Police Officer Anthony Fandel is handling the investigation. He said the probe is just beginning and it's too early to tell whether the same person used the fake bills.

The case will be handled the same as any forgery of regular cash bills, and the person could face felony forgery charges, Fandel said.

The Chamber is urging local merchants and businesses to require customers using Spree Dollars to sign the back of the certificates, and then check customer identification.

Store and business employees may also call the Chamber at 824-5689 at any time to verify the authenticity of a Spree Dollars bill.

Currie said the forgeries are an unfortunate turn in an otherwise successful program to keep Craig dollars local.

"We want this to be a good program and a program that benefits the entire community," Currie said. "Unfortunately, something like this makes it more difficult."

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