Gallatin County businesses hit with counterfeit bills


Gallatin County businesses hit with counterfeit bills (07/24/13)

BELGRADE, Mont. - Belgrade Police are working with federal agents to try to track down the folks responsible for passing counterfeit bills in Gallatin County. We tracked down a business where two bills were passed.

It started out like any other day for Bubby's Cuppa Jo Coffehouse owner Rhonda Gilbert.

A little after one, a couple pulled into her drive-through. The man ordered a drink and paid with a $20 bill.

"When I got the 20, I thought it looked a little different, felt different," Gilbert tells me.

She gave him his drink and his change. Then, his passenger ordered a drink but, instead of paying with his change, he gave Gilbert another 20. That's when she knew something was wrong.

"I went back into my coffee hut, turned the light on in my bathroom, put the bill up to the light and could tell that there was no security strip. At that point, I knew it was a counterfeit bill, both of them were," explains Gilbert.

Gilbert tell me she felt sick to her stomach. Her shop is set off from the road -- she says she didn't want to take matters into her own hands.

"You don't don't know know if he could have had a gun underneath the seat of his car. You don't know how he would have reacted if I would have said, 'Hey, these are not real, give me my money back.' I was scared, I was nervous. I was not going to do that," says Gilbert.

So, she gave the man his change but as he left, she also took down his license plate number and called police.

I met with Sergeant Dustin Lensing at the Belgrade Police Department. He tells me they see counterfeit bills on occasion, usually in trends. This time, he says they had at least five cases in the county in one week.

"A bill can get passed, somebody could walk out the door or drive away and the clerk might not even know that the bill was counterfeit until later when they make a deposit at the bank," explains Lensing.

The easiest way to tell if a bill is counterfeit is to hold it up to the light, check for a watermark or security strip and make sure the denomination of the security strip matches the denomination of your bill.

Lensing showed me other ways to ensure your money is real- like the red and blue fibers and the metallic flakes on a 20. The serial numbers should be evenly spaced and the portrait should almost look 3-D.

I asked Lensing about Gilbert's case. He tells me having a description is always beneficial but couldn't give me any details on their progress.

Gilbert tells me it's frustrating.

"I'm really hoping that they catch these people because $40 is a lot of money. It's a hardship on your business, especially small businesses," says Gilbert.

Lensing says the Secret Service plays an important role in investigating counterfeit crimes.

"Everything that we obtain in the ways of evidence and documentation, we forward onto the Secret Service," says Lensing.

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