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Merchants advised to watch out for fake $20 bills

Fake $20 bills like this featuring chinese characters on one side and a dashed black line in one corner were passed out at a parade as a practical joke.

Local cashiers and business owners are asked to be on the lookout for fake $20 after a practical joke got out of hand.

Pine River State Bank Compliance Officer Sam Anderson sent out a heads-up to Pine River Chamber of Commerce members Sept. 5 to be on the look out for $20 that are the same size as real bills with the same design with exception of some Chinese characters printed on both sides, and a dotted black line in one corner. Bank rules on customer privacy limited what information Anderson could share on the incident.

"The only thing I can say is a customer did bring in the note," Anderson said. "They did indicate they received it during the Nimrod parade (Sept. 2) but that's the only information we know."

Further research with Nimrod Jubilee parade organizer Delores Shore suggests that the bills were a practical joke that was not well thought-out. Shore said she knows who was giving out the bills, though she was not aware of it until recently.

"I didn't even know it happened until the bank called me," Shore said.

Shore said she is passing along the contact information for the person involved to the bank, but she also said that this person has a tradition of practical jokes during Jubilee and this last one could not have been done with ill intent.

"They would never do that, but they probably felt it was a joke that would be funny to do it," Shore said. "It wasn't done to be a big deal."

The joke has gotten so out-of-hand that the Minnesota branch of the Secret Service has an open investigation into the bills, which are available as prop bills online.

"We have received a report of it but unfortunately I can't report on any ongoing investigation we do have going," said Minnesota Special Agent in Charge Joe Scargill. "I can say yes, we are aware of it."

Scargill said anyone who comes into possession of the bills in one way or another should report them to local authorities and turn them in. He said it is also helpful to take note of who gave you the bill, and maybe even encourage that person to call the authorities with you, especially if you suspect they are unaware that the bill is counterfeit.

"Possession of counterfeit currency is a federal crime, so your best course of action if you come in contact with money you suspect to be counterfeit you can never go wrong with contacting your local law enforcement agency," Scargill said.

Scargill said he can not comment on whether the purchase of the bills or tongue-in-cheek distribution of the bills was criminal due to the open investigation. He did say that there are specific guidelines for handling prop money to avoid legal complications. Given that fact, caution and careful education is advised for anyone considering buying prop money in the future for any reason.

In addition to prop $20 bills, for more than a year now a small collection of $100 bills marked "For Motion Picture Purposes Only" have been getting passed off at local businesses. Scargill said these fake bills are more prevalent.

Jay Cline of First National Bank of Walker said his branch in Backus has not yet seen any of the prop $20 bills, but he has seen the motion picture money.

"They seem to come in spurts," Cline said. "We saw some recently and a year ago also. It sounds like that's just motion picture money they use."

Though many businesses have pens and markers used to detect fake bills, they do not always work on the counterfeit bills, including the $100 motion picture bills. Those who handle money should look carefully at bills for abnormal marks such as the Chinese characters or for wording which identifies a bill as fake, such as the words "Motion Picture Film". The presidential faces and fonts on such bills may also look different from the real thing.

Authentic bills have several hard-to-fake features you can look for in addition to these more obvious markings.

Color shifting ink is present on bills which is difficult to reproduce.

All authentic currency has raised printing.

Current currency has a watermark to the right of the presidential portrait which is a portrait of that same president.

Bills also have security strips which state "USA" and the bill denomination.