More than a million dollars in counterfeit cash was passed through Oregon and parts of southwest Washington state last year. A big chunk of that fake money was found in the Portland area.
As the owner of two businesses, Tigerlilly Tattoo and Hollywood Lux Vintage in northeast Portland, Mary Kate Bassindale said coming in contact with counterfeit cash is, unfortunately, inevitable.
"I've seen 20s," Bassindale said. "I've seen 5s and I've seen 100s."
Bassindale said as a former Portland bartender used to dealing with cash constantly, she luckily knew what to look out for long before becoming a small business owner.
"I would see it often in that atmosphere," she said. "Once a month, probably."
But she said not all business owners have a background like hers.
"I've heard a bar down the street accepted like $2,000 worth of counterfeit bills and I don't believe that they're open anymore," she said.
"So, on this specific one, this is a hundred dollar that was printed on top of a bleached one dollar note so it's actual genuine paper, it's just not, it's not a hundred dollar bill," Justin Bourne, a federal agent with the United States Secret Service, said.
Bourne tracks phony bills circulating in the area and agrees it takes a toll on small shops.
"It impacts everyday stores, mom and pop stores, and it really is a community impact problem," he said.
Last year alone, Bourne said they took in close to 24,000 counterfeit bills from across Oregon and southwest Washington.
"About 450 notes a week," Bourne said.
Together, it equaled more than a million dollars in phony money.
"Most of the activity is up and down the I-5 corridor," Bourne said. "Portland being the largest metro area, that's where we see the most activity."
But he said knowing what to look for is the key to getting duped by counterfeit cash.
"Most of these notes we see here were done on an inkjet printer," Bourne said.
Bourne showed us a series of fake bills that come through his office.
"They have some Asian characters on them," he said. "We're seeing these pop up all over the place."
But he also showed us a real $20 dollar bill and important features to look for.
"You want to feel a little bit of raised ink on the bill," he said.
Another good idea he said is to hold the bill up to the light.
"You would want to see a watermark of Jackson's face on the right side," he said.
Bourne said the color shifting ink on some bills is also a telltale sign it's real.
"It should change from copper to green," he said.
If someone does all this and it doesn't quite add up, Bourne said it's important to call your local police department or even the U.S. Secret Service.
"That counterfeit note might actually be connected to a larger organization or a case that may be going on," Bourne said. "So it may be, it could be an important piece of evidence."
"You only do it once," Bassindale said. "You go to the bank and they tell you it's fake and then you know to look for it every single time."
"And it's devastating," she continued. "When you are a small business owner, every single dollar counts."
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