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Fake bills may have ties to Peruvian drug cartel
Hinesville police report surge in counterfeit money in area
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Some of the fake $50 bills passed in this area are displayed at the Hinesville Police Department. - photo by Patty Leon

Hinesville Police are reporting a surge in counterfeit money being spent here that could have ties to a state-wide problem and a Peruvian drug cartel.

Officer Al Cato said there have been at least 11 cases since Sept. 1. Roughly $3,000 of fake bills, primarily $50 denomination, has been found when businesses prepared deposits or the money was rejected by the banks. Eight of the cases involve Walmart.

“This is some of the best counterfeit money I’ve ever seen,” Cato said adding that most cashiers accept it because it passes a marker test. “If you are working at a busy store and the bill passes the pen test you are likely to place the money in the drawer and move on.”

The fake bills have a watermark and embedded serial number thread like true bills, Cato explained. The one thing the counterfeiters didn’t perfect is the paper and ink.

“It’s a little too shiny and glossy, but still very well done,” he said.

Cato said HPD started looking into the case, “And we received a bulletin and found out there has been a surge of counterfeit money hitting the country and it’s all coming from Peru,” he said.

HPD is working with the Secret Service and Cato said based on the duplication of the bills’ serial numbers and other factors the Secret Service believes the counterfeit money here has ties with other cases in Statesboro and Forsyth.

Assistant Special Agent in Charge Malcolm Wiley, from the Atlanta Field Office, said they are working with agencies across the state.

“I cannot speak specifically to you about any tie between the counterfeit in Peru… because any information we might have is part of an ongoing investigation,” Wiley said.

The Athens Banner Herald reported Sept. 8 that bogus bills have circulated in that area. During a hearing a week earlier Quinn Michael Gibson told the U.S. District Court in Athens that he smuggled more than $14,000 in fake $20 and $50 bills from Ecuador into the United States.

A similar article was published in the Sept. 10 San Francisco Chronicle. Both articles reported that “According to (a Secret Service agent), the bills are originating out of Peru and are being printed by the organized crime families in that area, basically the drug cartels.”

Cato said investigators are looking into how the fake money came here. He cautioned retailers and the public.

Wiley said anyone can accidentally receive a fake bill.

“As an example, people think that you can’t get counterfeit money from a bank but unfortunately it is something that happens quite a bit,” Wiley said. “The general scenario is this: Somebody brings in counterfeit currency into a bank and deposits it into their account. Now if the teller does not catch it immediately, which the tellers usually do because they handle so much currency, but if they don’t catch it immediately they take that money and they put it in their drawer. And then the next person that comes in to make a withdrawal is given a counterfeit bill...”

Wiley said the best advice is to check your cash before you leave the building.

“Take the time to take a look at your money, see if it feels different, see if it looks different,” Wiley said. “If you have questions about it then ask them for another bill. You are allowed to do that right there on site.”

Wiley said currency is printed on special paper.

“When a U.S. bill is minted they embed red and blue fibers in the paper,” he said. “If you take out a dollar bill and take a close look at it you will see red and blue fibers in the paper. If you were to take a stick pin you could actually pick those fibers out of the bill.”

He added people should hold it up to light to make sure the face on the bill is duplicated in the watermark. He said light will also reveal the vertical security thread that should match the denomination.

“If the security thread says USA 5 and you are holding a hundred dollar bill then it’s a fake,” he said.

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