A touch of Hollywood has infiltrated Mount Airy, but in contrast to the latest blockbuster playing at Creekside Cinemas or producers wielding fat movie contracts, it should be avoided like a Miley Cyrus production.
This involves the recent circulation of so-called “movie prop money,” which has city police giving two thumbs down to situations in which it has been used to victimize local businesses.
At first glance, the fake $100 bills involved resemble real money, including the familiar image of Benjamin Franklin. However, a closer look shows the imitation currency is labeled “for motion picture use only” and also has a much different feel from genuine cash, including a smoother texture.
“Most counterfeit currency we see doesn’t even look close to real money,” Police Chief Dale Watson said Wednesday in reference to recent incidents involving both the movie prop and conventional type.
However, the fact that the bills obviously are bogus has not kept them from being circulated successfully, according to police records.
Most recently, on Sunday, a discovery of movie prop money occurred at Taco Bell on Rockford Street, where a fake $100 bill was used to obtain goods and real money — apparently the change from the transaction.
“People are just not using due diligence when it comes to currency,” the police chief said of what he considers the most effective way to spot the bogus type.
Sometimes those distributing the movie prop money take advantage of factors such as a cashier being so busy he or she doesn’t look closely at a bill, or passing it in the dark.
That was the case with an early March nighttime incident in which imitation currency labeled for “motion picture use only” was used by an unknown suspect to pay for taxi fare. The victims in that case were Granite City Cabs on South Main Street and an employee of the business.
Brandon Davis, a city police detective, also cited a local incident in January 2016 in which someone presented 33 of the movie prop $100 bills, which were folded over and therefore harder to identify, as payment for an all-terrain vehicle.
In that incident, in which a man from Virginia was victimized, cell phone records were used to identify the suspect and make an arrest, Davis said.
More locations affected
The detective said all the cases of movie prop money seen locally so far have involved $100 bills.
He added that the source of the fake currency is not a mystery.
“It’s actually readily available on Amazon,” Davis said of the major Internet-based retailer.
“It’s not difficult to find it,” the police chief concurred.
The wide availability of the movie prop money means problems linked to its misuse haven’t been limited to Mount Airy.
Just in the past month, the motion-picture currency has been passed for the real variety in places such as Lincoln, Nebraska; Albemarle and Goochland counties in Virginia; Minnesota; Seattle; and elsewhere.
Watson said in addition to its misuse, the prop money apparently is employed legitimately in film productions.
Other counterfeit cases
As if problems with the movie cash aren’t enough, recent police reports also document an emergence of cases involving traditional counterfeit money being passed here.
“I think we have had a bit of both,” Watson said.
On May 17, a counterfeit $100 bill was discovered to have been passed at the Speedway convenience store on Rockford Street.
Two similar incidents, also involving bogus currency in the same denomination, occurred during the weekend of May 13 at Papa John’s Pizza, where it was used to obtain goods, and Circle K on North Main Street, regarding an attempted purchase.
“Counterfeit currency is not an oddity here,” the police chief said of a problem that surfaces and goes away, only to return like clockwork.
“We come across it on a regular basis.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.