Incidents involving counterfeit currency have increased recently in Mount Airy, including the arrests of two people in the past week.
And one of the reasons for that rise could be a popular seasonal activity many people innocently participate in, but which can be a conduit for the circulation of bogus cash, according to Police Chief Dale Watson.
“This time of year you have more flea markets, more yard sales,” he said Wednesday. “There are more opportunities for that type of currency to pass through the system.”
The situation in Mount Airy is being mirrored in other communities recently, based on widespread media reports.
“I think counterfeit currency is kind of cyclical,” Watson said of a problem that flares up from time to time and then subsides. “I wouldn’t say it’s seasonal, but I think the season we’re in right now helps perpetuate this kind of criminal activity.”
The reason warm-weather enterprises such as flea markets attract persons wanting to unload counterfeit money is simple.
Those venues often are less restricted compared to other parts of the economy, which can put operators or vendors at risk.
“Fifteen or twenty folks are giving you bills here and there,” the police chief explained, with those seeking to pass counterfeit currency taking advantage of that confusion. “The typical person doesn’t have the means to check it,” Watson said of fake cash that might be slipped in along the way.
“And that’s how it ends up in the system.”
The police chief said he talked to one person on Wednesday involved in a counterfeiting incident. That man, a vendor at one of the local flea markets, had sold goods to an individual in exchange for paper currency, the authenticity of which was not verified.
“And then when he went to purchase items, that’s where he found it was counterfeit,” Watson said of an encounter at a local business. Established stores or restaurants are where the fake money usually is caught through the use of markers that identify counterfeit bills.
“Some of the individuals are unsuspecting that they are passing along the currency and others are doing it deliberately,” the police chief said of incidents that can have “multiple victims.”
While at least one recent case involved a fake $100 bill, other denominations can be involved. “It runs the gamut,” said Watson, who pointed that counterfeit $5 bills sometimes are passed because people receiving those generally don’t expect such a low denomination to be targeted.
Sometimes counterfeit money is identified by the feel of the paper, which can be less substantial than genuine currency. Other characteristics to look for include irregular textures, color fading and missing or altered watermarks.
The U.S. Secret Service, the federal law enforcement agency best known for protecting the nation’s leaders but which originated to combat counterfeiting, offers these tips:
• Holding a bill up to a light and looking for a holograph of the face image on the bill. Both images should match.
• Looking at the bill through a light will also reveal a thin vertical strip containing text that spells out the bill’s denomination.
Terry William Utt, 51, of 323 White Pines Country Club Road, was charged early Tuesday with possession of counterfeit currency and obtaining property by false pretense, both felonies.
Utt was arrested at the Cook Out fast-food restaurant on Rockford Street after city police investigated an incident there involving bogus money. He was released under a $5,000 unsecured bond to appear in Surry District Court on July 24.
Sabrina Rae Walker, 30, listed as homeless, was arrested on May 25 and charged with possessing counterfeit currency, uttering a forged instrument and obtaining property by false pretense, all of which are felonies.
Walker was taken into custody in the area of Davis Street and Sunset Drive after city police responded to a suspicious-person call. She was held in the Surry County Jail under a $2,500 secured bond and is scheduled to appear in District Court on June 12.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.