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Police investigating counterfeit $100 bills used near Westminster

Police investigating counterfeit $100 bills used near Westminster
(HANDOUT)

Signs have cropped up in Westminster recently advising that businesses will not accept $100 bills after a series of counterfeit notes were used in April.

Westminster Police Capt. Pete D'Antuono said his agency has been notified of several incidents, and the Carroll County Sheriff's Office is also investigating cases that occurred outside of the city. Police believe the incidents are related.

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"They kind of just come and go, and they seem to be close together," D'Antuono said.

It's common for the perpetrator to print a batch of bills, hit a few stores quickly and move on, he said.

Jim Collins, owner of Play It Again Sports in Westminster, said his store received two counterfeit bills, which were discovered when he went to deposit them at the bank.

After the teller showed him what made the bills counterfeit, Collins said he and his employees were more vigilant. However, another fake bill was used and not caught until later, so Collins decided to avoid accepting $100 bills for the time being.

Collins said he took a fake bill to neighboring businesses in the 140 Village Shopping Center and showed it to them to warn them. After describing the man he suspected used the counterfeit bills, the business owners and managers recognized the description and checked their bills. Some were counterfeit.

"Until you actually see one, feel one, handle one, you're not going to know it's fake," he said.

The policy against $100 bills has already hurt his business at least once, Collins said, because a man wanted to buy a set of golf clubs using $100s and the store did not accept them as payment.

"It hurts the honest person," he said. "It hurts the good guys."

D'Antuono said more sophisticated printing technology has made it easier to make higher quality counterfeit bills.

Well-done fake bills can be hard to spot for nonexperts, according to Senior Assistant State's Attorney Melissa Hockensmith.

"The counterfeit bills I've seen in cases that we've done have gotten better over the years," she said.

The U.S. Secret Service website recommends making sure the portrait on the bill appears lifelike and distinct, the border is clear and unbroken and the serial numbers are evenly spaced and printed in the same color ink as the Treasury seal.

"I've always told people, and it still holds true, that they can never duplicate the paper," Hockensmith said.

It is illegal to duplicate the paper used to print currency, including the red and blue fibers embedded within.

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Hockensmith also said counterfeit bills will often have the same serial number when printed in a batch, although Collins said the bills used at his store had different serial numbers.

Last year, a counterfeiting ring used fake $50 bills to purchase thousands of dollars in electronics at Wal-Mart stores in Maryland and Pennsylvania, then returned those items at different stores for legitimate currency, according to court records.

The two leaders were charged in federal court, and other participants were charged in the Circuit Court for Carroll County, according to the records.

Hockensmith said the bills used in those incidents were high quality and it would take a couple of days before the stores identified them. Once enough incidents took place, however, and the stores and police departments investigating them shared information, security footage was pulled and suspects were identified.

Late last year, Manchester Police identified a man they believe was passing counterfeit $10 and $20 bills at local businesses, according to Chief John Hess. The bills were not high quality, but the incidents took place at businesses where transactions are quick and employees did not immediately recognize the forgeries.

Charles Andrew Sies, 29, of Manchester, was charged with forgery and counterfeiting offenses and is scheduled for a settlement conference in the Circuit Court for Carroll County on May 18, according to electronic court files.

The best way to apprehend someone passing counterfeit money is noticing the fake quickly and getting a description of the person and any vehicle to relay to law enforcement, Hockensmith said. Local law enforcement offices should be notified if a business discovers a counterfeit bill.

410-857-7898

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