published Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Counterfeit: Chattanooga couple says they got fake money from the bank

  • photo
    Joshua Risinger holds a copy of a counterfeit $100 bill Tuesday in his home. He and his wife were given the counterfeit bill at a bank, he says. Authorities said counterfeiting is an ongoing threat.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
    enlarge photo

CURRENCY REVAMPS

In1996, the U.S. Treasury added new features to Federal Reserve notes. The new $100 bill appeared March 1996, the $50 October 1997, the $20 September 1998 and $10 and $5 bills in May 2000. The most noticeable modification is a larger, slightly off-center, more detailed portrait. The back of the new $50, $20, $10 and $5 bills features bigger numbers than the older notes.

In October 2003, the United States issued a redesigned $20 note with enhanced security features and subtle background colors of blue, peach and green. A new $50 note was issued Sept. 28, 2004. In March 2006, a new $10 note entered circulation followed by a new $5 on March 13, 2008. The $100 is also slated to be redesigned.

Secret Service tips: How to spot a counterfeit bill

Paper: Genuine bills are made with special paper embedded with small blue and red fibers.

Serial numbers: On genuine bills, the serial number is printed uniformly and is the same color as the treasury seal.

Vividity: Genuine bills are high-quality prints with crisp, unbroken lines.

Watermark: Genuine bills have a built-in watermark, usually of the featured portrait.

Security Strip: Genuine bills feature a security strip that is detectable by UV light.

Detection pen: While useful, detection pens are not foolproof.

Compare: The Secret Service recommends comparing a suspect bill with a note of its same denomination. Check for differences, not similarities.

Ami Risinger handed over the cash that she and her husband, Josh, were counting on to get them through the next few months.

A SunTrust teller took the money, stacked it in a counter and began the transaction. Standard procedure.

But something went wrong.

The counting machine rejected a beat-up $100 bill that Risinger was depositing.

The teller plucked the bill out and inspected it.

That morning, Ami Risinger, a full-time student at Southern Adventist University, had picked up her student loan reimbursement check and cashed it at BB&T in Ooltewah. She thought maybe she'd pay some bills later.

But, instead, she'd brought the money to SunTrust, where her account is held, to make a deposit.

And then there was this hold up. The troublesome $100 bill didn't look wrong to her.

But, it was wrong. It was fake -- counterfeit, even with a detection pen mark and signs of use.

"My first thought was kind of shock," said Josh Risinger, Ami's husband.

Then his thoughts turned to "What's next?" And after a visit to the bank he claims issued a fake $100 bill to his wife, Risinger became frustrated.

BB&T officials said there wasn't much they could do, that they couldn't just reimburse the couple. And even if they could, it was going to take some time.

So the Risingers were stuck, out $100 and not knowing where to turn: Two of the latest victims of a counterfeiting operation.

They're not alone.

Last month, police in Calhoun, Ga., arrested a man after he tried to pass two fake $100 bills at a Wal-Mart. In a news release, Police Chief Garry Moss said those bills were "identical" to other fakes floating around the area.

Earlier this month, the Catoosa County

Sheriff's Office forwarded a release from the United States Secret Service office in Atlanta warning residents that counterfeit $100 bills were circulating in their area.

Donna Job, resident agent in charge at Chattanooga's Secret Service branch, said "it's not uncommon" for fake bills to pop up, especially at this time of year.

"We are seeing a lot of counterfeit. It always picks up after Christmas," she said.

Holiday shopping provides the perfect opportunity to slip fake bills into circulation, as overwhelmed cashiers work to move shoppers through stores quickly.

The U.S. Secret Service, which was created in 1865 to limit counterfeit cash in circulation, estimates that less than .01 percent of the $600 billion of the U.S. cash and coins in circulation -- or about $60 million -- is counterfeit.

Often, it's retailers who take a hit when cashiers accept fake bills, said Job.

But sometimes fakes do slip into banks. And sometimes fakes find their way back into the hands of customers.

Job compared it to a costly game of musical chairs. "We always say it's the last man standing," she said. And whomever's holding the fake money when the music dies is the loser.

There's nothing the government can do for them at that point.

The Secret Service does not reimburse victims of counterfeiting. Job said it's a precautionary protocol to prevent counterfeiters themselves from making money and cashing it in for the real thing.

She suggests people in the Risingers' position approach the bank instead.

That's what the Risingers did. They lobbied BB&T -- where they say the fake $100 bill came to them -- for a reimbursement. So far, it's been unsuccessful.

BB&T officials say they have safeguards in place to prevent the distribution of fake bills. And they, like the government, are cautious about handing out money to folks who claim to be victims of counterfeiting.

One of the first questions a BB&T representative asked Josh Risinger was whether Ami could have switched a real $100 for a fake one.

"We're a low-income family," Josh said. "It's a very slim chance that she had a fake $100 bill to switch it out."

At this point, he doubts the couple will ever get the money back.

He accepts it, but laments having to pay the $100 back to the government anyway, since it came out of Ami's student loan reimbursement this semester.

The couple hopes at least some banks will start taking greater precautions to prevent it happening to others.

"I want banks to understand that people are aware that this happens, and it's not OK," Josh said. "What are they going to do to make sure this doesn't happen?"

Job considers it a hard lesson learned, one that could have snagged anybody.

According to her and a BB&T spokesman, the only way for consumers to fully protect themselves at the bank is to always check withdrawals before leaving the building.

"Especially if you're getting out a decent amount," said Job. "If you catch it right there, normally they'll switch it out for you."

If you catch it later, you may just be $100 poorer.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6480.

about Alex Green...

Alex joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 as a region business reporter. He is a native of Dayton, Tenn., located 35 miles north of Chattanooga, and he is a fifth-generation Dayton native. Alex came to the Times Free Press as an editorial intern in July 2013. He was previously a correspondent at The Herald-News, located in Dayton, through college and editor-in-chief of the Triangle, Bryan College's student-led media group. Alex was ...

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