County experiences surge in counterfeit money

POULSBO — Kitsap County law enforcement officials are facing a rise in counterfeit money passing through the region’s cash registers.

“It’s a sign of the times,” said Deputy Scott Wilson with the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office.

The “times” have shown a rise in crimes related to drug use throughout the county. Aside from crimes such a burglary, Wilson said, counterfeit money is one method of funding a drug addiction as fake money can be exchanged for real cash.

Incidents of counterfeit money occur in up-and-down trends, Wilson said. Law enforcement officials will get a rush of funny money and then it will tapper off. But the frequency of such incidents generally stays the same, until recently.

For example, county deputies encountered 15 cases of counterfeit money in 2010. In 2011 there were 14, and in 2012 there were 13 cases.

But that number has slightly jumped in recent months. So far in 2013, county law enforcement officials have taken on 23 cases of counterfeit money.

That number does not reflect the incidents of counterfeit money encountered by municipal authorities such as Poulsbo or Suquamish police departments.

Since August, Poulsbo police have investigated 13 cases pertaining to counterfeit money within the city limits. Fake cash has appeared in places such as gas stations, farmers markets, local stores, yard sales and even in transactions among friends.

One incident involved an elderly woman who passed a fake $20 bill at a Poulsbo pharmacy.

Multiple bills have shown up at Walmart in Poulsbo.

Only a fraction of the cases, so far, have garnered suspects. County authorities, however, have had success in a few cases they've taken on.

“We’ve actually been very astute in being able to prosecute those that we’ve found,” Wilson said. “We’ve been able to track them down if it’s here in the county.”

But a considerable problem is that much of the counterfeit cash found in Kitsap is likely coming from outside the county, Wilson said. A suspect will bring the money into Kitsap, exchange it, and cross back over the county line with genuine cash.

“By the time the money has changed hands, the person who brought it over is long gone,” Wilson said.

The reasons vary for why the counterfeit money has become so prevalent, and Wilson said he could only speculate, however, there is one element that appears to be related.

“The overriding cause is drugs,” Wilson said, particularly heroin and methamphetamine use.

“They got to pay for their drugs,” he said. “If they can print this money, then turn it into cash, they can use the real money to buy drugs.”

Technology has advanced enough, Wilson said, that printing fake money can be an easy task for someone with a good printer.

Wilson noted that the counterfeit money deputies discover rarely comes in small bills. Counterfeiters will commonly pass a larger bill — 20s or higher — in order to get genuine cash in smaller bills as change. Counterfeiters will also attempt to pass false money at quick points of exchange such as coffee stops or gas stations.

Genuine bills should have a metallic thread embedded in the paper. The absence of the thread is one sign that the money may be fake. The U.S. Secret Service has posted tips on spotting real and fake money on its website,

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