FORT WORTH -- Concerned that they were seeing an increase in counterfeit money, managers at the Great Outdoors Sub Shop posted signs warning that $50 and $100 bills would not be accepted.
"Some of these [fake] new $100s look real. We don't want to take any chances because we'd be out that money," said Marco Rosas, manager of the shop on Camp Bowie Boulevard in Fort Worth. "Now we direct anyone with $50s or $100s to a nearby bank to get change."
Authorities say a struggling economy and advancements in counterfeiting technology have not contributed to a noticeable spike in the circulation of bad bills, but there appears to plenty of funny money on the market.
"It's a crime of opportunity," Secret Service spokesman Max Milien said. "That's always been the case."
Since May, Fort Worth police have investigated 15 reports of fake currency.
And though most of the money passed in Fort Worth was fairly low-quality and failed to slip by alert clerks, motivated criminals have found methods of creating bills that fool some convenience store workers, bank tellers and even detector pens.
Sharron Neal, a Fort Worth police spokeswoman, said the most common technique counterfeiters use is washing smaller bills with a cleaning solution that removes the ink, then reprinting the bills in larger denominations.
"Since they [victims] noticed the bills were fake, I would say they are probably poor quality," Neal said. "The good ones tend to go unnoticed."
Not everyone in town has been fooled.
This summer, a bartender at the Rainbow Lounge on Jennings Avenue was given a $100 bill by a woman who was paying for drinks.
"The bartender believed the money felt weird and left the bar area to check out the bill," police were told. "When the bartender saw the watermark of Abraham Lincoln [which corresponds to a $5 bill], she went back to the bar and the female was gone."
The plastic strip embedded in the bill read "FIVE USA."
"It's a habit to look for fakes," said the bartender, Andrea Wilson, who has worked at the Rainbow Lounge for two years. "It was the second fake $100 I've gotten since I've worked here."
Most area police departments do not have officers dedicated to counterfeiting because of the low number of offenses. Generally, the fraud detail investigates such crimes.
The Grapevine Police Department receives about 20 cases annually, most of them $100 bills, Lt. Todd Dearing said. Arrests are rarely made as the counterfeiter has passed the money and is long gone.
Years ago, the department busted a couple of counterfeiters who were working out of a local hotel.
"It was a fairly elaborate setup," Dearing said. "They had a nice printer and good software."
Arlington police also said reports of counterfeiting aren't common.
Dearing said police use advanced methods to verify whether bills are fake.
"It's usually fairly easy to tell," he said. "When we're done, we send the bills to the Secret Service."
The Secret Service is the federal agency responsible for investigating the counterfeiting of U.S. currency.
On a recent visit to the Dallas field office, located in Irving, agents opened a file cabinet filled with money sent from businesses and individuals for verification. Most of the money, the agents said, is real.
But businesses such as banks will send it to them just to make sure.
The Secret Service pays to verify its authenticity, making case files for each bill and, if the it's genuine, returning it. If the money turns out to be fake, whoever sent it in is out of luck.
Many fake bills are poor quality. The ink on really bad ones runs when touched with a wet finger. But they can slide by a harried clerk, and counterfeiters know to target easy prey.
"I'm going to look for kids at fast-food restaurants that are overworked and overwhelmed and taking money without looking at it," Milien said. "I'm going to stand in a 20-person line because I want that guy. He's not paying attention and my success rate will be higher."
Counterfeiters usually make $20 bills because they're easier to pass. Bigger bills get noticed, and smaller bills aren't worth the effort.
One Fort Worth store was sure it had caught some counterfeiters when two young boys showed up with a $1,000 bill to pay for school clothes. Although $1,000 bills are no longer made, this was an old, genuine one their mother had stashed away years ago.
Marty Sabota, 817-390-7367