INKJET PRINTERS HELPS COUNTERFEITERS
INKJET PRINTERS HELPS COUNTERFEITERS
2005-09-01 at 11:15:00 am #12390
Digital imaging changes face of counterfeit bills
The owners of the Amen
Gift Shop never planned on making a lot of money selling African
artwork to help ministers in impoverished sub-Saharan villages.
But nearly two years ago, a counterfeiter shattered their trust in the
community and their confidence in running a business when he laundered
$3,900 in fake money through the store’s Western Union terminal.
Fearful of being victimized again, the owners closed the little shop.
“When you got so much air taken out of the tire, you don’t roll forward
- smoothly, at least,” says Nwaka Chris Egbulem, a longtime Catholic
missionary and leader of the Amen Foundation, a non-profit group that
ran the shop.
Unfortunately, small mom-and-pop businesses such as the Amen Gift Shop
are the most frequent targets of counterfeiters, says Dale Pupillo,
deputy special agent in charge of the Secret Service’s criminal
Counterfeiters prey on inexperienced and busy workers, from high school
students working at ice cream stores to bartenders in busy clubs, he
says. (Related item: Computers help tech-savvy counterfeiters cash in)
“They take advantage (of such workers),” Pupillo says. “For small
businesses, even the smaller amounts of counterfeit money make a
From the nation’s capital to Gaston County, N.C., to Levelland, Texas,
local and federal law enforcement officials are bringing cases that
illustrate how advances in digital-imaging technology have made
With inkjet printers or tabletop color copiers, anyone can make counterfeit cash quickly in his or her home, Pupillo says.
High school students in North Carolina are making fake cash for their
lunch money. Petty criminals in Lubbock, Texas, allegedly hope to
exchange fake money quickly for real currency.
Nathaniel Wills, 44, of Washington ruined the Amen Gift Shop in about
four hours by using it to transform counterfeit money into real cash,
according to papers filed by federal prosecutors in U.S. District Court
On Nov. 5, 2003, Wills and two female accomplices passed $3,900 in
counterfeit money via the shop’s Western Union terminal, according to
the papers. The affidavit says the threesome “wired” the fake cash to
other stores in the city, where they picked up legitimate money.
Wills, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced in June to 18 months in prison.
“It was devastating,” says Egbulem, who reimbursed Western Union out of his own pocket.
Pupillo says today’s counterfeiters have the best equipment but pay
little attention to detail, often producing poor-quality fake cash.
“They’re not interested in color-shifting ink or watermarks or the red
and blue fibers (in legitimate money),” he says, referring to concerns
of counterfeiters of the past. “They just want something that looks
like a $20 bill.” Most of the time, that’s enough to sneak the fake
bills past unsuspecting clerks at small shops, convenience stores or
Despite the changes in counterfeiting, the amount of fake cash
produced, seized and passed has remained stable in recent years.
Counterfeit money continues to represent a small percentage of the $700
billion in legitimate currency in circulation worldwide, the Secret
Last year, the agency estimates, domestic counterfeiters produced $53.7
million in fake cash. Of that, law enforcement officials seized about
$10.3 million, which left $43.4 million in circulation.
In Gaston County, N.C., prosecutor William Stevenson says he’s seen “a
marked increase” in the past six years in cases such as the one against
Casey Henson, 23, of Belmont, N.C., who allegedly used a counterfeit
$20 bill to pay for delivery of a pepperoni pizza.
On May 29, two days after he tried to dupe Pizza Hut, Henson paid a tab
at a popular local bar with a counterfeit $20 bill, according to police
Belmont police Officer Dawn Todd wrote in an arrest report that Henson
had $252 in counterfeit cash in one side of his wallet and some real
money in the other. According to the report, Henson admitted he had
made the counterfeit money. Police confiscated a scanner from his home
and seized more than $2,000 in fake money.
Public defender Andrea Godwin, who represents Henson, wouldn’t
elaborate on his case until the grand jury took action. But she says
she has had several clients who were accused of making fake money on
their home computers, including juveniles who made counterfeit $20
bills and tried to spend them in school lunchrooms.
Godwin says most of the defendants plead guilty to misdemeanors because of the small amounts of money involved.
Some cases carry a much greater risk. Alleged counterfeiters Tasha
Garcia and Herman Brooks “could have caused an explosion” when they
took off at high speed from a Levelland, Texas, gas station on June 15,
according to a Secret Service affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in
An alert convenience-store clerk realized Garcia and Brooks were trying
to pass a counterfeit $50 bill to pay for gas and told them she was
calling police, the affidavit says.
The court papers say the pair drove away at such a high speed that they
ripped the nozzle from a gas pump. When police eventually stopped them,
the nozzle was still in the car’s gas tank. The affidavit says a
7-month-old baby also was in the car