Some of the bills have the exact same serial numbers, indicating that someone copied a single bill several times, while others have serial numbers that have shown up only once. For example, a $10 bill with the serial number DD#30482039A turned up at Arby's and another $10 with the same number turned up later at Papa John's, Newell said.
A rash of counterfeits in Mercer, Jessamine
A rash of counterfeits also has surfaced recently in Mercer and Jessamine counties, Newell said, adding to the theory that more than one person or group is involved.
"It would be unusual for one person to pass all these bills," he said.
The advances in technology and popularity of home computers and printers has made it fairly easy to create a counterfeit bill that looks real enough at a casual glance. The fake bills that turned up in Danville have all been printed on a heavy stock paper that reasonably approximates a real bill, Newell said.
"What they are using is that high cotton content, heavy bond resume paper," he said.
Though the counterfeits might seem real at first blush, a little closer examination will reveal them as frauds, Newell said.
"You can look for the water mark or the security stripe. These counterfeits are more smudged looking, they have dark blotches behind the presidents' portrait," he said. "There's no way they will stand up to any real level of scrutiny. You just have take the time to look."
Most counterfeiters prefer larger denominations
Most counterfeiters prefer larger denominations because it can create more money from less work. Taking a large phony bill can really hurt a business, Newell said. If a fast food spot takes a fake $50 bill to pay for $5 worth of food, it ends up costing them nearly $100 because they've given back $45 in change and then the counterfeit has to be turned over to authorities.
"Technically, the government is the victim in counterfeiting," Newell said. "We take custody of it and there is no restitution."
If you happen to find yourself in possession of a counterfeit bill, it might be tempting to try to pass it along again to avoid taking a loss. But Newell said it's best to notify police because even if you didn't create the fake, you could still be charged with possession of a forged instrument or have to spend a lot of time explaining your actions to investigators trying to track the bill to its origins.
"The defense is always 'I didn't know it was counterfeit. I just got it from another business," he said. But we're usually able to track the thing back. They don't usually pass through too many hands before they're noticed."
Newell said the best way to avoid becoming a victim is to pay more attention to your money.
"When I go to McDonald's, I don't look at my change before I stick it in my pocket," he said. "But I probably should."