Fake Benjamins

Local financial institutions sound warning about counterfeits

By CJ Baker and Mark Davis
Posted 2/22/24

P olice and bankers are warning residents and businesses to be on the lookout for counterfeit $100 bills, as several have circulated in Powell in recent weeks.

Over the past two weeks, six bogus …

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Fake Benjamins

Local financial institutions sound warning about counterfeits


Police and bankers are warning residents and businesses to be on the lookout for counterfeit $100 bills, as several have circulated in Powell in recent weeks.

Over the past two weeks, six bogus bills were spotted by local banks and reported to authorities.

While it’s not uncommon for counterfeits to show up in town — a couple were spotted last summer — “this is the most that we’ve seen in a short period of time,” said Powell Police Lt. Matt McCaslin.

The first fake $100 was reported by personnel at Pinnacle Bank on Feb. 6, with more caught at Pinnacle and First Bank of Wyoming on Feb. 9 and two more discovered at First Bank on Tuesday.

The counterfeits came to the banks from unwitting customers — mostly businesses — who’d received the bills from others. As of Wednesday, police hadn’t identified a particular source for the fake cash.

“We’re still investigating some leads as far as videos and things like that to try and track them down,” McCaslin said.

Powell isn’t the only community in the area to recently see an uptick in counterfeit cash.

In late January, KTVQ reported that hundreds of bogus $100s were mysteriously left on a Billings street and scooped up by passersby. A Billings Police Department spokesman told the TV station that the counterfeits were missing a watermark, lacked the blue, 3-D security ribbon and shared the same serial number: LF11395129C.

A couple of the $100s found in Powell also shared identical serial numbers, but the numbers — PL15888264I and PE40747419B — differ from the bills discovered in Billings. 

Financial institutions are constantly updating detection equipment and educating employees to catch fakes. When personnel identify a counterfeit, they must take the bill out of circulation, log the serial number and where it came from and send it to the Secret Service, said Jessy Watts, teller manager at the Powell branch of First Bank of Wyoming.

“We encourage anybody that receives [a counterfeit] to file a police report. That starts an investigation,” Watts said, adding that, “unfortunately, that person is out the $100.”

There are many features on a Benjamin to inspect. First, bank personnel look at a holographic security ribbon in the center of the bill, which features bells that change into 100s when viewed from different angles. There is also color-shifting metallic ink in the corner and the inkwell that will reflect either gold or green, depending on the angle.

Modern bills also have a security thread that runs through them. Under UV light, it shows up a bright fluorescent color.

“In the $100 bill, they're actually pink and super noticeable,” Watts said.

While the threads are hard to see without a UV light, they can be viewed by holding the bill up to the light. Another key indicator is a watermark in the right-hand corner, which only appears when held up to a light. If it’s present when you're looking at a flat bill, there's a possibility it’s counterfeit.”

How the bill is cut can also be a sign of a counterfeit; they won't have a clear cut edge. You can tell they're a little bit ragged or a little bit skewed or the borders won't be perfect. But even some real bills will have those indications on them.

Counterfeiters are constantly improving their fraud attempts. The size and images on the fakes tends to be fairly accurate, but the texture is often different, as criminals typically use paper with less cotton. Fakes feel “more papery,” Watts said.

With the counterfeits that have shown up in Powell?, “You can tell that somebody's trying hard to use a high quality paper and make quality copies,” she said.


What you can do

While specialized pens used to be a popular way to check for fakes, they can be unreliable; First Bank of Wyoming no longer uses them. The pens are used over and over again, coming into contact with different substances and inks. The ink also dries quickly and will give false alerts, Watts said. Sometimes a bill is presented with black marks from a counterfeit pen that trigger a further inspection.

Watts instead suggests buying a UV light, which can cost about $10. She also recommends holding the bills up to a light and looking for the security threads and the red, white and blue micro fibers in the paper used by the federal government. That’s what gives the bills a cottony feel.

Real bills also have a “toothy” feel on the raised printed portions of the bills, she said. All denominations will have the same feel.

It can be uncomfortable to inspect a bill when being paid in person, such as at a garage sale or in a Facebook Marketplace transaction. However, “ultimately, I think if people are concerned that the money that they're receiving is counterfeit, they should give it back to the individual and either deny them the purchase, or request an alternative form of payment,” like a credit card, Watts said.