Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

Knowing your money can save you your money
By Sarah Steele Wilson, Newsroom Editor
Feb 4, 2013, 15:02

When Hopewell News and News~Patriot employee Brittany Sponaugle stopped at a business in Colonial Heights to buy some juice for her son, she paid with a $50 bill. She received her change and thought nothing of it.

Later, when she went to pick up some take out for dinner, she made an unpleasant discovery.

“We can’t take it, it’s fake,” she was told of the $20 bill she handed the cashiers.

The business had used a special pen designed to detect counterfeit currency.
Sponaugle went to the business next door, to ask if they thought it was fake. That business reached the same conclusion.

She called the police, who asked her to bring the money to their headquarters. It was then that she discovered something else about counterfeit currency.

“I was not going to get my money back,” she said.

According to the “New Money” website of the United States Government, Sponaugle’s experience was par for the course.

“If you end up with a counterfeit note, you will lose that money,” the site states. “A counterfeit note cannot be exchanged for a genuine one...”

Although many people associate the United States Secret Service with the protection of the president and other important government figures, the organization was established in 1865 to suppress the counterfeiting of U.S. currency, which is still an important component of its mission.

“The problem with counterfeit, is one note really stinks,” said Bill Frantzen, special agent in charge of the Secret Services’s Richmond Field Office. “It could be an individual or a small business owner who gets a note, and unfortunately, they’re out that entire amount of money, because there is no recourse for it.”

Frantzen said there is no reason to think there has been a rash of counterfeiting activity in the local area. Although Hopewell saw a slight increase in the number of counterfeit currency passed in September and October, 2012, that is typical in the fall, before the holiday season begins.

“Hopewell might average maybe five or six in a month’s time,” he said. “During that period, they were averaging somewhere between 10, 11, 12 a month, for just a two month period, then it went back to normal.”
The bills collected also appeared to be the work of different individuals, indicating the were coming into the area from elsewhere.

“None of the notes were from the same pattern, so it’s not like it looked like one particular individual was hitting the area,” Frantzen said. “It’s just very, unfortunately, a popular method of crime during the pre-holiday season.”

In Colonial Heights, where Sponaugle received the bill as change, the police are accustomed to responding to counterfeit calls at some of the large retailers that operate in the city.

“We respond to those all the time,” Sgt. Rob Ruxer said.

Last year, his department received 46 reports of counterfeit currency during which they seized the bills.

If the police respond to a call where a suspect is identified, the police will act.
“We do have the ability to charge them with it, and we have in the past,” Ruxer said.

More typically, the bill is not detected until the end of the evening when businesses close.

“The suspect is long gone, or the cashier has no idea who gave it to them,” Ruxer said, describing a typical call. “...It’s rare that we go out there and someone knowingly passes the currency.”

In those cases, the local police departments seize the bills, and turn them over to the Secret Service for analysis.

Although local law enforcement cannot provide people with real money in place of counterfeit currency, turning counterfeit money over to local authorities is the best course of action for those who have become victims.

“We can track specific bills,” Frantzen explained. “...If Hopewell, all of a sudden, got 15 of the same exact notes, we would know there was a player working in that area that we need to spend extra attention on. Because there’s one individual potentially, or a group of individuals, who came up with a new note that’s spreading it.”

By turning the bill in, a person has enhanced the Secret Service’s abilityto compile the data they need to identify counterfeiters.

As high quality printers have become more available to the general public, counterfeiting has become a more accessible crime. New kinds of counterfeit notes are appearing more frequently, because of the improved technology, Frantzen said.

“It’s still easily detectible, but it’s not a complicated scheme,” he said.

According to the Secret Service’s 2011 annual report, the most recent available on the organization’s website, approximately 60 percent of counterfeit currency passed in the United States in FY 2011, was produced with digital printing means, as opposed to less than one percent in 1995.

One popular method of counterfeiting, that can thwart pens like the one that detected Sponaugle’s note, is bleaching genuine currency, and then reprinting it as a higher denomination of currency, transforming a $1 bill into a an imposter $100 bill.

“One of those notes that’s been passed in the past six months in the Hopewell area, was a bleached note,” Frantzen said. “So, no, it’s not prevalent there...but it can become prevalent at any given time because it’s a popular method for counterfeiters.”

Frantzen said the best way to avoid losing money is to examine any cash received.

“Most of the bills that we are seeing in Hopewell aren’t very good counterfeit bills,” he said. “They’re made on an individual machine, home computer. If you look just an extra minute or so, you could probably, with the naked eye, determine that it was a counterfeit note.”

The Secret Service has a “Know Your Money” pamphlet they can send out, explaining tell tale signs people can look for in their money. The Secret Service website,, also features a guide to help people identify counterfeit currency.

Frantzen said that in the Richmond district, the Secret Service collected $277,000 in counterfeit currency last year, in a variety of denominations. That figure may include bills passed elsewhere, but processed through banks located in the Richmond region.

According to the Secret Service Annual Report, in FY 2011, the organization recovered $154.7 million in counterfeit currency and arrested 2,471 individuals domestically and 386 suspects in foreign countries.

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