Watch your wallet holiday shoppers, counterfeiters are on the prowl

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(WIVB) – The next time you pull out cash at the counter, you might want to make sure those bills are the real thing.

Authorities say counterfeiters like to spend money during the holidays, and it turns out to be “funny money.”

Here’s a sobering thought: The U.S. Treasury Department has estimated there is between $70 million and $200 million worth of counterfeit cash circulating across America at any one time.

That could be a big Christmas downer if any of those bogus bills end up in your pocket.

Shoppers are emerging from the safety of their homes to buy those holiday presents despite the pandemic – but so are the counterfeiters, says Secret Service Special Agent-in-Charge Jeff Burr.

“In the sense that things are opened back up a little more, and more people are out, going to traditional retailers, we do start to see some more money being passed,” Burr said.

Burr told us that counterfeit currency comes in a wide range of authenticity, from poor knockoffs cranked out on tabletop printers, to carefully-crafted productions that are very difficult to detect.

The bill that is copied more than any other is the $20 bill.

“It is the most common bill in circulation, it is the most common bill that comes out of every ATM, and it’s what a lot of people are making their transactions with,” Burr said. “So we see predominantly 20s here in the U.S.”

But Agent Burr told us it is the $100 bill that is counterfeited the most – and circulated around the world.

Burr says Western New York is not a hotbed of counterfeiting activity right now – but that is no reason to drop your guard.

“There is nowhere that is completely immune from it, and Buffalo is no different,” Burr said. “It is our job to make sure that the amount that is in circulation is not a danger to the monetary system of the United States.”

Buffalo’s top Secret Service agent told us no matter how real a bill is replicated, there is usually a telltale sign it is fake – right down to the watermarks, or the texture of the paper.

“American paper currency has a certain feel to it,” Burr said. “It can be stiffer or more pliable, depending on how old the bill is, but it doesn’t feel like your traditional office copy paper.”

If you get stuck with a bogus bill or two, authorities would have to prove intent to prosecute you, but you will likely be out of the money.

The Secret Service has a website with tips to avoid a counterfeiting disaster. You can find it here.

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.

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