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Police: Funny money resurfacing

Clovis Detective Matthew Solari points out differences in a counterfeit $20 Wednesday at the Clovis Police Department. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.

Counterfeit currency is back in circulation.

Clovis police arrested six people in December in connection with what they said was a counterfeiting ring. Now more fake bills are showing up in the region and police have collected more than $5,000 in fake bills since late last year — about half of that since mid-December, police said.

Police Detective Matthew Solari said most of the fake money has been in $50 and $20 denominations. The serial numbers on the latest batch are different from the counterfeit bills passed in December. Police said they’re not sure if the latest fake bills have been made recently or if they could be connected to the bills first distributed last year.

“They are still being passed at Wal-Mart. The banks are getting them, probably through fast-food restaurants that get them and don’t check closely,” Solari said.

Police said many of the people caught using the fake funds recently were unaware the bills were fake. Reports of counterfeit bills have come from Farwell, Hereford, Texas, and Roswell, in addition to Clovis.

Solari said the counterfeiting techniques have improved since December.

“I held up a counterfeit $50 to a real $5, and I could tell the $5 was older but the colors matched,” Solari said. “On some of the bills, the paper has changed. It began with resume paper, and now it’s smooth and looks like old money.”

Evidence technician Wendell Blair said he’s seen too much “funny money” come into his evidence room and takes extra steps to avoid becoming a victim.

“I check my money very closely,” Blair said.

While it may take time, Solari said Blair’s practice of checking every bill is important. Solari said the easiest items to check include special print on the dollar amount in the lower-right corner of the bill’s face, which changes from green to black when held at an angle; a faint watermark on the far right side of the bill duplicating the face on the bill; and a “security strip” between the portrait and the left side of the bill’s face repeating the cash value in small print in a line running from top to bottom.

Much of the local counterfeit currency has two additional distinctive traits. Sometimes the cut on the edge of the bill is ragged rather than smooth. Also, the local counterfeit printers appear to be using a printer that often adds a blue tint to the green color of the bill.

Solari said even poor replications of the currency have gotten into circulation, and police believe that’s happening because the people passing the money are also involved with illegal drugs.

“It’s filtered down through the drug trade, we’ve realized,” Solari said. “Most drug transactions occur at nighttime and you’re not going to take a lot of time checking money in one of those deals.”

Whoever is making the money faces steep penalties if they’re caught. Solari said forgery of even a single bill is a third-degree felony, regardless of the denomination, and carries a three-year sentence in state prison. Counterfeiters could also face federal charges.