‘Funny money’: Authorities track counterfeit bills

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

There has been enough “funny money” passed in and around Selma lately to attract the attention of some people who think it’s not so funny.

Counterfeit currency is considered contraband, and enough fake $20 bills and even $100 bills have surfaced to where Thomas P. Impastato of the United States Secret Service was in Selma on Wednesday. There have been numerous incidents area merchants have reported, and did the right thing by turning phony money in.

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Impastato said fake currency is usually passed where money changes hands fast, such as in bars, small grocers, convenience stores, and even in the drug trade.

Authorities have tracked and documented cases for the past six months. The investigation is ongoing. Impastato said he was not taking part in making arrests while he was in Selma, but came to collect more counterfeit bills collected by the Selma Police Department. He said the public needed to be made aware.

“The main thing people need to look for is the polyester threads, the watermark, and the color shifting ink,” Impastato said. “New printer technologies allow counterfeiters to print as they need. It has opened Pandora’s box. Since costs have come down, more people have access to printing. You used to have to have these huge offset presses.”

No matter how high the resolution of a scanner or how many DPIs a printer may produce, there are safety features in United States currency that have not been reproduced. There are some, however, the merchant markers may not detect.

Impastato, whose office is in Mobile, said they track all counterfeit currency, which these days may even include bogus corporate checks, cashier’s checks, or money orders. They collect the contraband, holding on to it for two years and then it’s destroyed, unless there are some leads to possible arrests.

Impastato has been with the Secret Service for 24 years, and he’s seen some good copies. But those collected here in Selma were “not very good.”

“Counterfeiters can’t go and buy the paper the federal government uses, so most textures won’t be the same,” he said. “The watermark should match the portrait. The color shifts from copper to green. Some of the big head notes shift from green to black.”

Police are asking anyone with suspicious currency to call while the person is there, if possible. If not, get the license number of the vehicle they are driving and a description.