Chicago store owners report children using counterfeit cash

Chicago store owners report children using counterfeit cash

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Chicago police say they're looking for a counterfeiter, around 20 to 27 years old, who has been using phony hundred dollar bills at stores on Chicago's Near North Side.

In other Chicago neighborhoods, merchants say kids as young as four years old are showing up with phony bills. The question is whether it's happening by accident, or whether the real counterfeiters are using the kids as pawns to launder their phony bills.

Everybody knows that it's Abraham Lincoln's face on the five dollar bill, but at the Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in East Chicago Indiana, it was Benjamin Franklin's face that made some headlines last year. A first grader showed up with six fake Benjamin Franklins: counterfeit hundred dollar bills. The youngster who showed up told investigators his mother kept a bag of the counterfeits in a closet at home.

He's not the only child passing off bad bills. On Chicago's West Side and South Sides, children aged 4, 5, and 6 are showing up with the fake cash.

"That's basically the age," store owner Big Homie says. "Like they send a younger crowd, they don't send an older crowd like I used to be. So it's different now."

"It started from last December where you can see, a lot of bills, have been twenty dollars, five dollars one dollars," store owner Jeff Khan says. "Ages of 7 to 12."

They've noticed a new trend too. Most are using smaller bills now.

"Before we used to see big bills, like twenty dollars, and ten dollars," Khan says. "Recently we've come across…we see ten dollars and five dollars counterfeit."

A few years ago, they say they were seeing lots of phony hundreds. Many are produced by what's called bleaching, which uses common household cleansers to scrub the ink off of five dollar bills. Then, the paper was used to print hundred dollars bills.

The phonies could be detected by checking the watermarks. If a Ben Franklin hundred had an Abe Lincoln watermark, the bill was a bleached five dollar bill. Now, they're seeing smaller bills: ones, fives, tens, and twenties. Those are not printed on bleached bills, but with regular paper; likely on home computers. Sometimes they're easy to spot.

"The back has got two layers," Khan explains.

"If you raise it up, you cannot see this five over here inside," Ayman Salaymeh says. "If you can't see it, that's when it's fake."

But the smaller bills are bills are so common, many stores typically don't have the time to check them. They seem to be turning up in areas frequented by gangs. One owner speculated that older gang members might be doing the counterfeiting and using juveniles--the younger gang members--to launder the cash on the streets.

"A young boy comes in the store, you won't look at a younger boy, versus how you look at an older person," Big Homie says. "So, its able to get away with it more. You get what I mean?"

The Secret Service investigates counterfeiters. The agency's website says they have zero tolerance and will investigate each and every counterfeiting case.

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