One $20 bill has already cost Tiffany Green more than $2,000 in legal bills.
"I didn't know it was counterfeit," the Olive Branch, MS, waitress said at her court hearing May 12. She's charged with uttering forgery, a felony with a maximum penalty of ten years in prison.
Two weeks earlier, Green's mother e-mailed Action News 5 to report that Green received the counterfeit bill on the job. Green allowed us to interview her on camera in front of the Olive Branch Police Department's Criminal Investigations Division.
Right on camera, Green told us she thought it was counterfeit as soon as she received it as change for $100:
"(Andy Wise) What made you think that this bill was counterfeit? What was your first indication?"
"(Tiffany Green) It's a new $20, but it looked old, like it's been in the washing machine. When I tried to deposit it..."
That statement, "When I tried to deposit it...," alarmed Major Mark Kimbell and Det. D.J. Shingles of the Olive Branch CID. They asked to review Action News 5's entire interview with Green.
"It was apparent and obvious that she had made some conflicting statements from what she had told us the first time," says Kimbell. "She had knowingly passed this counterfeit bill at the bank."
"This is all a misunderstanding," Green insisted after her court hearing. Her attorney, Stan Little of Tunica, MS, says Desoto County prosecutors must decide whether to present her case to a grand jury.
Green's story is a cautionary tale about what you should do when you think you might have a counterfeit bill. The U.S. Secret Service says:
* DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PASS IT.
* DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DEPOSIT IT.
* REPORT IT IMMEDIATELY TO YOUR BANK OR LOCAL POLICE/SHERIFF'S STATION. Be prepared to give a statement about how it came to you. Be prepared to leave it and accept the loss.
* Depending on the value of the counterfeit cash, CONSULT YOUR HOMEOWNER'S INSURANCE POLICY.
"Most homeowners' insurance would cover that loss without a deductible," says Rick Harlow, special agent in charge of the Secret Service's Memphis office.
To verify a real bill, hold it up to a light. On new 10's, 20's and 100's, you'll see the watermark of the face on the right side of the bill.
On new 5's, the watermark is the number 5, not a face. Harlow says that's because on the old 5's, Abraham Lincoln's watermark looked a lot like Benjamin Franklin's watermark. So crooks would bleach old 5's to make fake 100's.
On real 10's and 20's, the numeral in the lower right-hand corner will have color-changing ink as you tilt it. If the color doesn't change, it's counterfeit.
Check the size and texture of the bill against other bills.
Harlow says retailers should not use detector pens because they work on the ph - or relative acidity - of the paper. He says counterfeiters fool the pens by bleaching the paper.
He says retailers should use a business-grade black light instead, available at most office supply stores. It will properly detect the security strip and its corresponding color in a legitimate bill:
* $100 - RED
* $20 - YELLOW
* $10 - ORANGE
* $5 - BLUE
Under a black light, a counterfeit bill will glow with no evidence of a security strip.