KINGMAN - The best way to protect yourself from counterfeiters is to have a working knowledge of genuine U.S. currency.
Kevin Rice, a Secret Service agent out of the Phoenix field office, visited Kingman Thursday to conduct three "know your money" seminars at the Mohave County Sheriff's Office. At the 10 a.m. meeting, he dropped genuine counterfeit knowledge on nearly 50 people.
"You would be surprised with how many poor quality counterfeit notes get passed," Rice said. "We're talking about people drawing an extra zero on a $10 bill, passing it and getting $99 worth of change."
By learning what to look for, Rice says people can protect themselves relatively easily. All you need is a genuine note to compare to the suspect note. This is important because if you're a victim of a counterfeiter, there's really no way to get your money back.
The first line of defense is the paper.
All U.S. currency is printed on material made with 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen. Most other forms of paper contain wood pulp. That's what those little pens you see cashiers using to check the authenticity of a bill are for, Rice said. They reveal the presence of starch because genuine money contains none, while most counterfeit currency does.
The process used to print money - known as Intaglio printing - creates raised lines on the bills, which can be felt by running your thumb across a note. Printing also creates a halo effect on the serial numbers and the treasury seal, Rice said.
If you hold any genuine bill up to the light, you'll be able to see small blue and red fibers embedded in the paper.
Other than the actual paper, the effect on ink from the printing process and the blue and red fibers, most money printed prior to 1996 contains very few security features. But as counterfeiting became easier to do with the advent of technology, new designs included additional security measures.
Bills created after 1996 use large portraits rather than the small ones found on pre-1996 currency. The "big head" bills are chock full of ways to tell if they're authentic.
Other than on $1 and $2 bills, all "big head" currency contains a watermark. You can see the watermarks by holding the bills up to light. If it's real, the watermark will match the portrait on the bill. If it's fake, there may be a watermark, but it won't match the portrait.
Counterfeiters may try to reproduce the watermark, but they usually fail. Rice showed one counterfeit bill with a Benjamin Franklin watermark that looked more like a cross between the Buddha and Mr. Magoo.
The $2 bills do not contain security features because they're already rare.
"In my 22 years of being a Secret Service agent, I haven't seen a single counterfeit $2 bill," Rice said.
He has seen counterfeit $1 bills, which he thinks rookie counterfeiters use to experiment.
Security threads with bill denominations printed on them have been is use since 1990. But in 1996, security threads that glow under an ultraviolet light started being used.
Rice said counterfeiters sometimes try to reproduce the security threads, but if you look closely, you can see the difference between a genuine bill and a counterfeit one.
In 1996, the U.S. Department of Treasury began using color-shifting ink on the denomination number in the bottom right hand corner of $10 and larger bills. Money printed between 1996 and 2004 goes from green to black when shifting from a 90-degree angle to a 45-degree angle. In 2004, the Treasury changed to a copper-to-green shift.
"This is the easiest way to discern if something is counterfeit or genuine," Rice said. "It's extremely hard for the bad guys to produce."
Lastly, the use of micro printing created yet another security feature. In various parts of different bills, you can find teeny-tiny words printed. For instance, on a $10 bill you can find the phrase "The United States of America" beneath
Andrew Jackson's Alexander Hamilton's portrait, "USA 10" beneath the torch to the left of the portrait and "Ten Dollars" along the side borders.
On counterfeit currency produced by inkjet printers and personal computers, these micro-printed phrases come up as chicken scratch because most computers can't handle type that small.
If someone gives you counterfeit money, Rice said follow your company's policy, call the police if there's an suspect involved or give it to your bank when there isn't. Handle the bill as little as possible. Write your initials and the date you received the money on the bill, place it in an envelope and give it to the police.
"These guys (counterfeiters) are generally not rocket scientists," Rice said.