Groves marshal offers tips for avoiding fake money

Groves City Marshal Norman Reynolds has worked in forgeries for 15 years.

Local merchants have reported three counterfeit bills to Groves Police Department so far this year, according to Deputy and Court Coordinator Lauren Edgar’s weekly reports.

The Dairy Queen on 39th Street received one counterfeit $20 bill Jan. 16 and a $50 bill on Jan. 28. The Express Mart Shell convenience store on Pure Atlantic Road received another counterfeit $20 bill on Jan. 29.

“All of last year, we had six counterfeits,” said City Marshal Norman Reynolds. In 2016, three $20 bills, one $100 bill, one $10 bill and one $1 bill were reported, he explained.

“I’m not sure that’s worth the effort,” he said, laughing. “We actually had a $1 bill; I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.”

“The most common are the $20 bills, in my experience,” he said, adding that $20 bills are not large enough for most merchants to check but “not so small that you have to pass 20 to get $20 worth.”

The counterfeits come from merchants, banks and individuals, Reynolds explained.

“It’s a financial loss for whoever ends up with it; it’s kind of like playing hot potato,” he said. “The last person with it, they bear the entire burden of the loss. You can’t just take something like that to a bank and ask them to exchange it for you.”

He recommends that merchants purchase a scanner with UV detection like the Groves Police Department has. Some more expensive scanners also have watermark, UV, magnetic and infrared detection.

“Of course, they have the pens, too,” he said. “Those aren’t always accurate, but you see them use those a lot of places.”

Reynolds worked forgeries for about 15 years. He said typically police will receive one or two counterfeit bills around the same time, but check forgeries are far more common (see page 19A for more).

“The checks are a whole lot easier to counterfeit than the money,” he said, explaining that thieves can counterfeit checks with a printer and stock paper from any office supply store.

People making counterfeit bills sometimes come from out of town, but Reynolds has seen locals counterfeiting as well.

“We caught a boy that was making counterfeit money, and we seized his equipment and arrested him, so it does happen; it’s just not that common,” he said.

He and Detective Robert Phillips both worked the case. Phillips said the incident was about six or seven years ago, and the suspect was a minor in high school.

“We get checks constantly,” Phillips added.

Some counterfeit bills are obviously not reported, Reynolds said, but recommends that anyone who discovers a counterfeit contact local law enforcement.

He also recommends consumers visit for more information.

“They have videos and a lot of information, ... so anybody can teach themselves how to get pretty good at determining it,” he said, adding that the newer $100 bill has 3D security ribbons, shifting ink, security threads, watermarks, raised printing, and microprinting, making counterfeiting much more difficult.

The traditional method of holding a bill up to the light helps, but Reynolds also says people should feel any suspect bills.

“One of the first ways to determine whether it’s counterfeit or not actually is just to feel it because this stuff is made out of 25 percent linen and 75 percent cotton, so it’s a unique material, and that, along with the raised printing, you can rub your thumb across it,” he said.

Tracing the source of the fake bills is difficult for law enforcement since often the bills have been exchanged in numerous transactions already.

“By the time we get them, typically, they’ve already passed through several people’s hands,” he said. “What they’ll do is, they go into these businesses during the busiest parts of the day when there are long lines and peak times when the clerks are trying to get people in and out.”

“It’s very rare for us that we do [receive a counterfeit],” said Dairy Queen owner Raymond Melanton, whose family has owned the store on 39th Street for the last 17 years.

One of the bills came from a local regular who passed it unknowingly, Melanton said. In the most recent case, the store did not know the customer but gave surveillance video to the Groves Police Department.

Often teenage employees are not used to handling money and may not recognize a fake, he said, so his store requires manager approval for large bills. They also keep a reader on their register.

“We mandated it after the first incident we had,” Melanton said.

These measures have been in place for at least the last two years at his store, he said.

Tammy Tini is the assistant manager at the Bridge City Express Mart No. 1 and also works at the Express Mart in Groves.

Usually, the company sends out an e-mail warning employees when several counterfeits have been found, she said.

A clerk discovered the counterfeit $20 bill at the ExpressMart when counting change in the drawer, so the bill could not be traced back to a specific person, Reynolds said.

A regular customer gave a clerk a counterfeit $10 bill at the Bridge City store recently, according to Tini. The store contacted the customer, who came back and gave the store another bill.

“It happens a lot in Orange,” she said. “Maybe because their crime is up a little more.”

Sometimes plant workers give the store clerks sweaty, discolored bills with ink rubbed off, which Tini is careful to check.