Counterfeit money popping up at e-commerce sales has attention of police

Several recent instances of counterfeit money being used to complete e-commerce (or m-commerce, for mobile) transactions has area law enforcement agencies — and the Secret Service — on heightened alert.

Police in Piqua, Dayton and Huber Heights are among the departments that have seized thousands of dollars in fake paper money.


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Last week in Piqua, according to Deputy Chief Marty Grove:

A seller who posted items on the LetsGo App met the prospective buyers in a public place, wasn’t alone, and showed the merchandise. Cash was counted out and after they parted ways, the seller realized some of the $20 bills bore the same serial number.

“Obviously, that’s a sign of counterfeiting,” Grove said.

Monday in Piqua, a second case occurred involving the sale of a firearm set up via a site called Arms List. That transaction occurred in a parking lot, but the seller was alone, Grove said.

The buyer, who was of age, gave the seller $20 bills.

Grove said the seller tried to deposit the money at a bank and discovered the cash was counterfeit — again, several of the bills bore the same serial numbers, Grove said, but police don’t believe the transaction is connected to the one last week in Piqua.

But, according to Secret Service agents in Dayton, bills bearing serial numbers matching those used to purchase the gun in the Piqua case were used to buy a gun in Toledo. The Secret Service believes these bills are being produced in the Detroit area.

In Huber Heights on Monday, Huber Heights police seized approximately $10,700 in counterfeit money during a traffic stop, Sgt. William Garlow said.

The man police stopped in the traffic case has not been arrested, Garlow said, but police are continuing their investigation into the discovery.

“I think the people are trying to pass the bills to buy things, to get Christmas presents and also to get change,” Garlow said. “They know retailers are busier and maybe they don’t have the time to fully investigate a bill.”

Grove said times have changed since the days that such transactions would occur late night or in shadowy places.

“People hear about other people doing it, it seems to catch on,” Grove told WHIO-TV’s Sean Cudahy this week when asked about trends in such types of crime.

“Criminals are progressing and know ‘I have to step up my game,’” the deputy chief said.

The Secret Service is working with all three jurisdictions to track down suspects.

Everyone in law enforcement and the federal agency also are engaged in educating the public.

The federal agency has on its website tips for people engaging in open-air e-commerce sales. Grove and Garlow also offer these tips:

  • Don't do transaction alone
  • Make the transaction in public place
  • Do the transaction in daylight hours
  • Check paper money for serial numbers, other security features the government has added
  • If you're not sure, do transaction outside a bank and go inside to have the currency checked.
  • Photograph the buyer and the buyer's vehicle. "If someone throws a fit about it, walk away from the sale," Grove said
  • "If the paper currency feels cheap, that's probably the first clue" to its being fake, Garlow said
  • Take any suspected counterfeit currency to police or contact the Secret Service field office in your area
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