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Posted on Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 5:56 a.m.

Counterfeit small bills regularly surfacing in Ypsilanti businesses

By Tom Perkins

Counterfeit money is being passed around Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.

And while authorities and businesses say it isn’t a totally uncommon occurrence for the area, the number of bills discovered has increased over the past month and the denominations are smaller than what has typically been found in the past.

Several business owners say the fake $5 and $10 bills they discovered caught them off guard.

“I’ve seen fake money before, but it’s surprising this time because it’s usually bigger bills. This time they’re doing smaller bills,” said Jeremy Wonch, a manager at Ypsilanti’s Tower Inn Pizza, which has found several fake $10 bills and a $5 bill over the past three weeks.

Tony Hibbard, a bartender at downtown Ypsilanti’s Tap Room, said his bartenders have been passed four counterfeit $10 bills in the past month. He said his employees now hold every denomination up to the light to ensure that there is a strip and they have notified the Ypsilanti police of some of the bills.

The YPD has only received two complaints of counterfeit money in the past month, according to Ypsilanti Police Sgt. Thomas Eberts, but he said officers have heard informally of more incidents in the city and in Ypsilanti Township.

He said the department has also been hearing only of $10.

“It’s a little odd that it’s that small of a denomination,” he said.


The Ypsilanti Police Department

Tom Perkins | For

Investigations into counterfeit money can be difficult for police because there is no way to trace where cash has been.

“Generally, if there is no suspect information that we can follow up on or a video or a business remembering and knowing who passed a bill, it’s very hard to track,” he said. “With every counterfeit case we let the Secret Service know, and we send the money to them.”

Eberts said bills are easier to counterfeit as technology improves, which could explain why smaller bills are surfacing.

“There’s been an increase with the increase in technology with printers,” he said. “It used to be kind of an art and now any hack off the street can try to make a counterfeit bill with printers that are available.”

Two years ago, the US Secret Service caught an Ypsilanti man trying to pass fake bills.

Terry’s Bakery owner Mark Swanson, who is also a member of the Downtown Association of Ypsilanti, said he spoke with around a dozen business owners throughout Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township who have received small counterfeit bills.

Terry’s Bakery discovered it had two counterfeit $10 bills when they went to make a deposit, Swanson said.

Jami Mitchell, a teller at Key Bank’s downtown Ypsilanti location, said the bank had seen several counterfeit $10 bills come through its location in the past week. But she added that seeing fake money in Ypsilanti is not a rare occurrence.

Key’s policy when it receives a counterfeit bill is to forward a report to the Secret Service, Mitchell said.

“We also always try to inform our business clients,” she said.

If businesses don’t catch a customer passing a counterfeit bill, then the business takes the loss. If the bill is unknowingly passed to the bank and the bank doesn’t catch it as it is being passed, then the bank takes the loss.

Hibbard said the bills feel as though they have been soaked in water for three days.

At Tower Inn, Wonch said the business is now running specialized markers across the bills as an extra precaution. He said they also have a fake bill posted and have instructed their employees to note how it feels different from normal bills.

One of Tower Inn's delivery drivers was recently passed a counterfeit bill, and drivers can't be sent out with markers, Wonch said.

He said the bills feel cheaper and “more fragile” than regular money.

“It’s our responsibility to catch it. There’s not much else you can do,” Wonch said.

Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter. Contact the news desk at



Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 7:51 p.m.

My understanding is that most printer makers have agreed to have their printers add a special virtually undetectable watermark to every printed item which has some identifying information. Counterfeiters, beware.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 8:49 p.m.

I paid cash for my printer at a garage sale several years ago. Its would only be traceable if a non cash trail was left or you register it. Either way the Feds don't play so if i were a criminal I'd find a regular job. The old saying crime doesn't pay, still holds true.

Brendan Keeley

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 4:05 p.m.

So I actually got one of these bills at CVS on Plymouth rd. I was a washed bill so a pen wouldn't and didn't work on it. Basically it was a low denomination bill made from a low denomination bill. I did a pen test and the bill passed, but it didn't stand up to a drop of water being placed on the bill. The ink ran. The bill seemed a bit brighter than average as far as coloring and the 10 on the bill was brown instead of gold. Naturally there was no strip in the bill. I think the strips on the inside of the bill is probably the best way to check the bill.

Cameron McLain

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 8:31 p.m.

Honest abe- Read the comments before commenting on them!


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 8:24 p.m.

Most printer ink is magnetic, check it with a magnet, or a rare earth magnet would be better... you can get small ones up at Harbor Freight for cheap!

Honest Abe

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 5:22 p.m.

Your going to tell ME and you're the one who 'got' one of these bills? You reiterated what I said. Come one, the 'oh it was dark' line?!?!? Even in the darkest of darkest bars, you can still see your hand and if it is smudged up with ink.

Brendan Keeley

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 4:58 p.m.

Mr. Abe please read carefully. The bill was made by removing the ink from another bill I am assuming a one, and then reprinting the bill as a ten. While the feel IS off, it does pass the pen test, and does have fibers. The tell is the ink, in the dark this would be hard, but it becomes apparent in the light. Also water removed the ink. I have held these bills. The pen and fibers don't work. The bill was a replica of a post nineteen nineties bill. It did not have a strip. The rub test WOULD work, but check for the strip.

Honest Abe

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 4:21 p.m.

Feel is the first step. If the ink is willing to bleed at all, it will leave some sort of ink on your hand if you rub the bill. Also, how do you check the strips when the bill does not have one? (Pre 1990) You would go by feel, pen and look for the fibers.

Honest Abe

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 4:01 p.m.

Why did Jeremy Wonch say that drivers cannot be sent out with markers? Does Tower Inn take the hit if a driver accepts a counterfeit note?

Cameron McLain

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 8:30 p.m.

Honest Abe- Proving to Ann Arbor. Com that you would obviously be the best delivery driver around. Good work! We applaud you!

Honest Abe

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 5:24 p.m.

Why the thumbs downs? Oh ,wait, you're probably one of the people who was not bright enough to realize they had play money in their hands.

Honest Abe

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 3:55 p.m.

Using a counterfeit pen AND holding up to the light is the best method. You're not going to see a strip on any bill that is Pre 1990. There is virtually no excuse to let a counterfeit note get past you. Even in the bar/club industry. It takes a whopping 10 seconds or less to fully authenticate a bill, unless you come across one of the Korean made 'Super Notes'. It upsets me when I hear stories of people saying it was 'busy' or 'dark' when the bill made it by them. Take the time to authenticate, or do not be upset when you take the loss on the bogus note you accepted. Most counterfeit notes do not even "feel" like a genuine note. Unless it is a high quality fake or a lower denomination bill was bleached and reprinted again as a higher denomination, feeling the note should be your first test. Next, if your note is 1990 and up, it will have a strip. Holding the note up to a light and looking for a strip is plain silly. Holding the note up to see the strip and what denomination is actually on the strip is the correct way. A quick swipe of the counterfeit detecting pen is your next move. Buy a good pen, too! Not some .50 pen from a dollar store. One last thing. Fibers. ALL notes will have colored pieces of fiber looking hairs on the bill. They can be red, blue...etc Look for them! If you do not have the time to examine your bills, you do not have the time to get paid. No excuse for taking in counterfeit money. Fast paced business of not.

Cameron McLain

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 8:28 p.m.

There are plenty of excuses/mistakes for taking counterfeit money. You don't work with large amounts of cash, or customers in a hurry, would be my guess? Be a little more realistic here.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 5:49 p.m.

The problem with testing every note in this case is it would become overwhelming. Not much of a problem to check every $50 and $100 you get, but if it's $5s $10s and $20s it becomes a bit of a problem.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 3:05 p.m.

A sad commentary on the pernicious decline of American craftmanship. Even the good quality counterfeit seems to be imported.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 8:45 p.m.

You want to see some good counterfeiters, go to Thailand!

Mark Hergott

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 1:30 p.m.

I have heard anecdotes of banks not doing due diligence and passing fake notes. All in all, I am more and more glad of my decision to only use magnetic money when practicable.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 1:05 p.m.

It's actually smart, depending on the quality of the bills, to use smaller denominations... who expects that? Was in Panama a few years back and you couldn't spend a 50 or 100 dollar bill anywhere without filling out a form and giving all of your passport information... apparently the Colombians are master counterfeiters but I'm guess this isn't them doing it here...

Cameron McLain

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 8:23 p.m.

Billy, you have no idea how much money these people made, or how much fake 10$ bills they are spending. I'm sure in most peoples minds, running that low of a risk of someone thinking your money (10$ bills) is fake, is worth it to most people to not have to pay for anything.. ever again.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 8:22 p.m.

Any time you are exchanging "dirty money" for real money, it's laundering, even if it's counterfeit. Now I haven't read my "Money Laundering for Dummies" guide lately but whether you go to a store, buy goods with your counterfeit bills then exchange them later for real money, or keep the goods and sell them for real money, or sell the bills at a discount to get real bills, it's laundering. And it's not 30 years... Under federal statute 18 USC section 471, if you're found guilty of making copies "in the likeness and similitude of US currency ... unless they are much larger or much smaller than US currency" (a minimum of 50 percent larger or 25 percent smaller) or unless they are "rendered in black and white," you face up to 15 years in the slammer."


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 3:09 p.m.

Hoss....that's not how you "launder" money. Laundering money isn't "selling counterfeit money to people" Laundering money is moving the money back into legal channels in exchange for legal currency. An example: You buy a car with the counterfeit money, now you resell the car and the money you receive will then be legal currency. There's a problem with the counterfeit game though.....someone has to get screwed in the end...and if you're dealing with large quantities of counterfeit bills, you're probably also dealing with organized crime...and that is probably the last thing you want to rip off. I think they've made a movie or two based on this concept.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 1:49 p.m.

So what exactly would you risk for a 30+ year prison sentence? I'm sure it's being laundered... there are lots of people out there strapped for money and if they can get okay looking bills for maybe 50 cents on the dollar, they're probably doing it. Underground economies thrive in tough times and close-knit, poor areas really pull together so it's highly unlikely that the person or persons creating these will ever get turned in by their own. Not saying they're smart at all either, just that they're probably desperate.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 1:41 p.m.

You don't risk a 30+ year prison term for a couple hundred bucks in counterfeit's about as not smart as you can get...


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 12:07 p.m.

Printers have been able to accurately (to the naked eye) create US currency since the a $100 printer can easily print money. What I find funny is that normally when currency is counterfeited they do so in VERY large quantities because of the risk involved. It's not some minor slap on the wrist...counterfeiting is treated similar to TREASON in this country, so you want to make sure it's worth it. You don't risk going to jail for 30+ years for a couple $5 and $10 bills. I don't do that if you have even a modicum of common sense.... Each and every time they "launder" one of those bills by passing it to a clerk and then recieving change....they risk getting caught for something that would put them away for life...

Cameron McLain

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 8:20 p.m.

No one prints money using their printer, its not just that easy (unless you want someone to laugh when you hand them printer paper with money printed on it). Most people could easily live off a couple 10$ bills a day. I'm sure they made tons of the 10$ bills, because there is virtually no risk of someone being handed a 10$ bill and thinking its counterfeit.

Dog Guy

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

The federal government doesn't like competition from amateur counterfeiters.

Hugh Giariola

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 12:01 p.m.

I'm curious as to the reason why Tower Inn's "drivers can't be sent out with markers?" Is it because it is impractical or are the markers that expensive?


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 1:33 p.m.

"Seriously, what business owner in his right mind would spend more than $3 per driver to prevent a $10 loss?" Last I checked one pen would do HUNDREDS of tests.......not one.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 1:26 p.m.

Another suggestion might be to just take the money as if it were a regular transaction and just note from which address the money came, then when back at the store check them and if they're fake, notify the police. Wouldn't be that hard at all, even with multiple deliveries on one run.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 1:23 p.m.

But it might not be safe for a pizza driver, all alone - prob at night, to confront some guy and tell him his money is fake and he cannot accept it. I think it might be too risky to the driver. At least in the store there will be other people around, lights, etc. and you are on your home turf, not the counterfeiters.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.

Those LED head lamps at Lowes or Home Depot are inexpensive and provide you with all the light you need... I delivered pizza too in a former life and while it can get a little cumbersome exchanging pizza and money, it's not nearly as complicated as one might think. And if you indicated to the customer that there's been an issue with counterfeit money going around, most of the time they'll probably understand if the transaction takes an addition 10 seconds while you check the bills. In addition, with a head lamp, you have the added benefit of safety where the light is poor or non-existent.

Tom Perkins

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 12:58 p.m.

As a former pizza delivery guy, I can see where markers would be a challenge at night when most deliveries occur. You are at the door juggling cash, pops, salads, pizzas, the hot bag and whatever else. Often times people don't have their porch lights on or the porch lights are dim, so checking the money with a marker would require going back to the car and turning on your car light. At that point the driver has the money and the customer is inside, so the transaction is complete. Not that it isn't possible. It's just not as simple as you might think.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 12:36 p.m.

Yes!, They're insanely expensive! A three-pack of these miracle-workers costs $9.50 at Office Depot. You can get them slightly cheaper, but only if you're willing to buy in bulk. (Perhaps the DDA could negotiate a bigger discount for that kind of volume purchase, if the businesses downtown were willing to share this expense among themselves.) (Seriously, what business owner in his right mind would spend more than $3 per driver to prevent a $10 loss?)


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : noon

"One of Tower Inn's delivery drivers was recently passed a counterfeit bill, and drivers can't be sent out with markers, Wonch said." I see absolutely no reason why a driver can't carry a counterfeit detector pen with there some incredibly stupid law or regulation that says a delivery driver isn't allowed to carry a counterfeit detector pen or something?

Cameron McLain

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 8:17 p.m.

No, its just a bit ridiculous to expect a delivery driver to check every single bill they are handed.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 1:09 p.m.

Maybe all of the pizza places that deliver could share notes and cross reference to see if they are coming from a particular address or location?


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 10:28 a.m.

So what ever happened to Ryan Thompson, the man arrested two years ago?