How to make sure your money is real with holiday spike in counterfeit bills

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The U.S. Secret Service sees counterfeit bills year-round, but during the holiday season, when everyone is busy shopping, they see an increase.

The Secret Service Honolulu Field Office generally receives about $11,000 in counterfeit notes each month. For November, it went up to $16,000.

Officials expect next month to be the same or higher.

“Some notes are better than others, and sometimes it is easier to slip a note in, especially during the holiday season when it’s crowded and there’s folks waiting in line and merchants just want to get people processed and out the door,” said Steven Stanford, special agent-in-charge of the Honolulu field office.

Bills with Chinese characters, for example, are novelty notes used to train bank tellers in China. They’re not illegal to possess, but you will get in trouble with authorities if you use them as real U.S. currency. 

There are variety of counterfeit bills out there and anyone can be a target.

“We see it in small mom-and-pop stores. We’re seeing it in the bigger department stores, so everyone is getting hit,” said Tina Yamaki, Retail Merchants of Hawaii president, “and you’re seeing the people that are actually passing these counterfeit bills that are in high school all the way up to the older people as well.”

Here are some security features to look out for on a real bill: “There’s a security thread that runs through the note, then there’s the changing ink that if you move through the note, the ink will change colors,” Stanford explained. “Of course, there’s the watermark, and if you hold it up to the light, you’ll see Ben Franklin’s face on the watermark.”

If you come a cross a counterfeit bill, call police or the U.S. Secret Service’s Honolulu field office at (808) 541-1912.

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