NewsPolk County


Criminals using 'play' money as real currency

Posted at 5:06 PM, Jul 16, 2019

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Can you tell the difference between a real $10 bill and a fake?

If you’re not prepared for a counterfeit bill to cross your path, it may be difficult to notice the subtle details of a forged bill by only looking.

Criminals are banking on the fact that you may not know the differences and cash in.

That’s what happened to an employee at a Lakeland Travelodge when a customer paid with cash, but when another employee was beginning her shift, she spotted a fake $20 and $10 bill.

“When you put them next to each other it looks very real,” Tammy Hale said she couldn’t tell by looking, but the fake money felt thicker.

After closer examination, Hale realized there was two fake bills in the register, a $20 and $10 bill.

“Started seeing gel pen marker on the shiny parts,” she said.

ABC Action News reached out to the Lakeland Police Department to check and see how common it is for counterfeit money to cross hands.

Detectives say in all, it’s rather rare and across the entire city only about $2,000 of counterfeit money usually is reported throughout the year. However, in the last few months, a spokeswoman with Lakeland Police says investigators have noticed a slight uptick.

Just last month, the department received 17 calls regarding counterfeit money. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office also reported 16 calls for service across the entire region for the same amount of time.

In April, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office only took four calls about fake money.

ABC Action News looked it up and found anyone can easily access fake money, usually used for movies.

Websites like WISH and Amazon offer prop money, which is not illegal.

“People buy it in bulk,” Detective Scott Hutton with Lakeland PD says they are aware of how people get their hands on fake money but it’s not illegal to sell or use until the intent to defraud someone come about. Detective Hutton says criminals have been known to use play money as U.S. Currency even though it’s clearly marked.

“It will say not for use it will say for entertainment,” Detective Hutton said.

Investigators say they’ve also noticed an uptick in scammers using low denomination fakes because retailers aren’t as likely to check those bills.

But, as Hutton pointed out, there are ways to spot a fraudulent U.S. note.

“So if you run your fingers across the money you’ll be able to feel the difference,” Detective Hutton says.

By holding money up to the light, you can clearly tell the difference in color, watermarks and other markings on the bills.

Lakeland Police says you can find fake money by feeling it, the texture will be much different. The markings on the bills will also change colors or reflection the light, fake ones will not.

Also, real money will have an imprinted strip on it and text usually coinciding with the dollar amount printed on the front. For example, if it’s a $10 bill, the imprinted strip may say “10” when you hold it up to the light.

For Tammy, she’s happy she was able to spot the fake using the technique of feeling the money. But knows for the future, her co-workers won’t be missing the clues because they all have to pitch in to pay it back.

“It does cost somebody,” Tammy said.

If you think you’ve found a fake bill, you can report it to either one of these sites:

You can also educate yourself on how to spot counterfeit money by clicking here.

Stay on top of local news across the Tampa Bay area by downloading our ABC Action News Streaming App available on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.