It's not a germ or a virus, but it might make you sick it you get one. That's because you could be cheated out of $100.
Counterfeit $100 bills have been circulating in Payson. They're hard to spot, and you may have held one in your hand without knowing it.
"If you hold the bill up to a bright light you can see the watermark. It should be the same image of the person on the bill," Payson Police Sgt. Tom Tieman said.
Tieman explained that you must look carefully.
"Just because there is an image of a person doesn't mean it's the right person. They're using five dollar bills to make larger bills."
Tieman said the counterfeiters are washing the ink off real U.S. $5 bills and using the paper to print the phony $100 bills. The watermark on a $100 bill should be Benjamin Franklin.
"Be careful when you check it," Tieman said. "If you see Abraham Lincoln in the watermark of a $100 bill, you know it's a counterfeit."
While holding the bill up to a light, Tieman pointed out another telltale sign to determine whether the cash is legitimate.
"Another thing to look for is the security stripe on the left side of the bill," Tieman said, "Using a magnifying glass, or just looking real close, you can see that the stripe says what denomination the bill is -- $5, $50, $100. It should match what you're holding."
One of the phony bills recently appeared at a Payson convenience store, in which the counterfeiter used it to purchase a money order. Two others showed up last week at the Payson Chili's restaurant.
"We had two of them Sunday evening," said Becky Rhodes, Chili's manager. "A young woman walked in off the street and asked for change. We have a separate to-go window at the side of the building. The woman said the bank was closed and she needed change. The employee, trying to be nice, went ahead and made change. The manager on duty started looking at them and noticed the face in the watermark didn't match the face on the bill. We notified the police."
The suspect was a young, white woman in her early 20s.
"From what I understand, the counterfeit pens don't work on those bills because they're actual money," Rhodes said. "It's still the same kind of paper so the currency markers say it's a valid bill. So if you don't really look at it and check that both the watermark and the face on the bill match, you're going to get ripped off."
Store clerks and shop owners are advised to be on the lookout for the counterfeit bills. Police are also asking for the public's help if anyone encounters someone trying to use the questionable cash. "If a clerk questions someone about a bill, and the person leaves quickly, try to get the best identification information you can. Get the vehicle description and the license plate number -- that's the key," Tieman said.
"When they're questioned and they get hinked up a little, they'll beat feet because what have they got to lose -- just a piece of paper."
Tieman explained that recent advancements in home computer equipment and color printers have made the job of identifying fake money harder than ever. "It's becoming a real problem. We send (counterfeit bills) to the Secret Service and follow up every incident with them. That's who actually handles the investigations."
Anyone who finds counterfeit money can call the Payson Police Department at (928) 474-5177, or contact the Phoenix field office of the Secret Service directly at (602) 640-5580.
For more information about counterfeit money, and tips to protect you and your business, visit www.treas.gov/usss/know_ your_money.shtml.
What to do if you receive a counterfeit bill
1. Do not return it to the passer.
2. Delay the passer if possible.
3. Observe the passer's description, as well as that of any companions, and the license numbers of any vehicles used.
4. Contact your local police department or United States Secret Service field office. These numbers can be found on the inside front page of your local telephone directory.
5. Write your initials and the date in the white border areas of the suspect note.
6. Limit the handling of the note. Carefully place it in a protective covering, such as an envelope.
7. Surrender the note or coin only to a properly identified police officer or a U.S. Secret Service special agent.
Source: U.S. Secret Service website www.treas.gov/usss/money_receive.shtml