Bogus bills all over the Northwest

Just before Thanksgiving, someone used counterfeit $100 bills to purchase merchandise at both Zumiez and Feugo stores at Redmond Town Center, according to the Redmond Police Department.

Around the same time, Tacoma Police reported 10 cases of fraudulent bills being used throughout the city.

In April, phony bills were used to buy items sold online in Seattle, according to the Seattle Police Department.

Recent counterfeit cases are also being investigated in Mason County and Olympia.

It isn’t easy to tell when bills are fake, especially during the busy holiday shopping season, according to a locally-based Secret Service agent.

“It can be difficult for employees of retailers to detect them,” David Mills, Assistant to the Special Agent in charge of the Seattle office, told KIRO 7 on Thursday. The bogus bills “can be good quality copies.

"They can also be in a group of bills and the cashier isn’t really looking to check each bill because they want to get as many customers through as they can,” Mills said.

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As much as $150,000 in counterfeit notes was passed off throughout Skagit County two years ago.  At the time, grocery clerk Stephanie Birtchet spotted one of the fake bills and told KIRO 7 about it.

“It just felt weird and the line wasn’t all the way visible and I couldn’t see the face,” Birtchet said.  “It looked old and wrinkly and so I told him that I couldn’t take it.”

Each year, the Seattle Secret Service office confiscates about $1,000,000 in counterfeit bills not only being passed at retail stores, but during online and app-based transactions, too.

According to Mills, making fake money is much easier these days thanks to technology.  “Before, in the past, you had to use an offset printing press to manufacture counterfeit.

Now we have all-in-one ink jet printers, scanners and computers that make it so easy for folks to just do it at home,” he said.

However, there are telltale signs of fraud; images that are fuzzy, not crisp; paper that is too smooth.

Another sign of a fake, according to Mills, is ink that is supposed to change color -- but doesn't.

“If you’re not sure about the money you’re being given, refuse the transaction,” Mills encouraged.

“Don’t be afraid to do that.”

He also suggested online or app-based transactions be conducted at a bank so the seller can have a teller check the money for authenticity.

Click here for more information from the U.S. Currency Education program.