Three women are suspected of targeting multiple Harford County businesses and using counterfeit $100 bills for either big purchases or to get change from smaller ones.
Walmart in Abingdon, Rite Aid in Havre de Grace, a business in the Bel Air town limits and three stores at the Festival at Bel Air have all reported "customers" using or trying to use counterfeit bills, in most instances they're fake $100 bills.
Police believe they are also connected to incidents in West Virginia and Virginia.
"It's a pretty extensive operation because we were able to identify that we were not only hit in several locations here in Harford County, to include incidents in town limits, but also incidents in West Virginia and Virginia," Harford County Sheriff's Office Capt. Jim Eyler said.
In all but the Havre de Grace and Bel Air cases, three different women are trying to pass off the fake bills as real, Eyler said. They appear to be changing their appearances each time, he added.
The total value of the thefts at Walmart and the Festival stores is estimated at more than $1,500, Eyler added.
All of the information has been forwarded to theU.S. Secret Service.
Sheriff's office investigators believe they are from out-of-state, Eyler said, but have not been able to determine where.
Two incidents occurred March 22 between 4:30 and 5 p.m. at the Festival in Bel Air, according to police reports. In the first, employees at Kitchen and Company told deputies that at approximately 4:38 p.m., a woman attempted to use a $100 counterfeit bill to purchased $3.18 worth of cupcake tins.
The store discovered the bill was counterfeit and handed it back to the woman, who said she would cash it at Klein's ShopRite in the Festival and return to complete the purchase, according to the report. The Kitchen and Company employee also told police the same woman had been in the store before and tried to use counterfeit currency.
A short time later, employees at the Klein's ShopRite reported a woman attempting to use a counterfeit $100 bill, according to another police report. In that incident, the woman attempted to use the bill to purchase two bags of chips totaling $9.15. The cashier showed the bill to her manager and when he approached the woman, she fled the store. The woman got in a silver minivan and drove north on Route 24, according to the police report.
The same woman is suspected in both incidents and is described as a black woman in her mid-20s, between 5 feet, 4 inches and 5 feet, 5 inches, with a thin build and long, straight black hair. She was wearing blue jeans and a white T-shirt with light blue writing, according to both police reports.
Deputies recovered the bill used at the Klein's ShopRite and although there was no watermark, there was a security thread on the left side of the bill, according to the report. In both instances, employees used the counterfeit pen, which identified the bill as fake.
Kitchen and Company and ShopRite, as well as Five Below in the Festival, reported the use of counterfeit bills on March 20 as well, Eyler said.
On Friday, March 23, two women used counterfeit $100 bills at the Abingdon Walmart to purchase a $400 Apple iPod touch, according to a police report. In that incident, a black woman purchased the iPod with five $100 counterfeit bills and received $81.30 in change from the purchase.
After the first woman left electronics, another woman attempted to purchase an Apple iPad with counterfeit bills and when she was questioned by a loss prevention representative, said she received the money from a bank across the street, according to the report. The woman then said she would go back to the bank and left the store.
Both women left the store parking lot in a blue Chevrolet Traverse registered to a company in Tulsa, Okla., according to the police report.
The woman who purchased the iPod is described as roughly 5-feet, 6 inches tall and 200 pounds and in her 20s or 30s. She was wearing black pants, a checkered shirt and black boots, according to the report. The second woman was described as 5-feet, 6 inches tall and 190 pounds, also in her 20s and 30s. She was wearing a blank pants and white shirt.
Abingdon Walmart employees reported Thursday receiving fake $100 bills on Feb. 23 and Feb. 25; they are being reported now because Walmart is just learning of the counterfeit bills from the bank.
Havre de Grace police also reported that a counterfeit $100 was passed Wednesday at the RiteAid in the 1000 block of Pulaski Highway.
The person who passed the bill is described only as a black man between 24 and 28 years old, weighing about 200 pounds, Julie Morgan of Havre de Grace police said.
She said he told the RiteAid employee he received the money as change from a bank, so police are investigating the history of the money.
Capt. Wayne Young of Havre de Grace Police Department said police are working with the sheriff's office to determine if the Havre de Grace incident is related to the other counterfeit incidents.
There was a related counterfeit case in Bel Air, Eyler added.
He also offered tips to local business owners on how to spot counterfeit bills. Most of the bills being used in these cases are $100 bills, the counterfeit watermarks are not as detailed and the bills are more textured that genuine currency.
"To business owners, just be very careful and aware when accepting $100 bills," he said.
In instances when counterfeit bills are found and returned to the person, Eyler also suggested that employees try to get a description of the vehicle and license plate number.
Anyone with more information is encouraged to call Det. Brooks and Det. Hall, 410-836-5433.
Staff reporter Bryna Zumer contributed to this article.