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Miami is a Counterfeit Money Hub

June 27, 2011 By Carlos Miller in Miami: Local NewsMiami: Travel News  | 6 Comments


Above: The top bill is the obvious fake, but before it got wet, it looked almost exactly like the one on the bottom.

A few weeks ago, I walked into my local Walgreens, made my purchases with a debit card and asked for twenty dollars cash back, like I’ve done countless times before.

I ended up sticking the cash in my pocket along with the receipt and walked back to my condo in the light sprinkle that quickly turned into a typical Miami downpour.

I ran back home soaking wet, emptied my pockets and changed my clothes.

Then I decided to order a pizza.

About 30 minutes later, the delivery guy knocks on my door and hands me my food; pizza, wings and garlic rolls. Yes, I was starving.

It was seventeen dollars and some change, so I gave him the wet twenty spot and sent him on his way.

Then I sat down to enjoy my meal. I was on my third slice of pizza when the phone rang.

I didn’t recognize the number, so I annoyingly picked it up, hating to be bothered when I’m eating, but not wanting to miss something important either.

Busted for passing counterfeit money

“That bill you gave us is fake,” said the voice on the other end.

At first I was like, what bill? Then it dawned on me that this was the pizza shop.

“No, it wasn’t,” I countered defensively. “It was just a little wet from the rain.”

But she insisted it was fake and asked me to come into the store and exchange the fake for a real $20 bill. I had half a mind to blow her off, but I really like this pizza place, so I didn’t want to burn that bridge.

So I went into the store the following day, expecting to prove to her that the bill was real, now that it was dry, but she ran one of those little markers against it and determined it was fake because the ink from the marker did not change color.

And at this point, the bill was looking pretty fake. The water had smeared the ink, so it had taken on a dark green color as opposed to the light green color of a real 20 spot.

So I took my fake $20 bill and considered going back to the Walgreens and raising hell, but at this point, I had no proof they had given it to me.

Then I went on the internet to see what could be done and learned that I’m pretty much stuck with it.

So I did what any self-respecting journalist would do. I decided to write an article about it.

Enter the U.S. Secret Service

I called the U.S. Secret Service field office in Miami and spoke to Special Agent in Charge Mike Fithen who informed me that it’s not uncommon to come across a counterfeit bill in Miami (surprise, surprise).

In fact, they arrest people weekly smuggling counterfeit bills into Miami.

Most quality looking counterfeits are produced in Colombia, Peru and Mexico, he said.

“Last week we arrested a guy entering the country with $66,000 in counterfeit money,” he said. “He was coming from Ecuador and the bills were made in Peru.”

Miami ranks in the top five along with New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston as cities with the most counterfeit bills circulating.

I told him my story and he said the pizza shop didn’t follow proper protocol because they were supposed to notify agents or at least their local police department about the bill, which would have resulted in agents knocking on my door to determine where that bill came from, so they could attempt to trace it back to its point of origin.

After getting over the shock of receiving a visit from the Secret Service, I imagine it would make an interesting story.

Fithen said they don’t like it when businesses return the money to whomever gave it to them because it allows the counterfeiters to work on their mistakes and perfect their design.

So he was disappointed in the pizza shop for not calling authorities about the fake bill, which is why I am not even mentioning their name in this article.

After all, I don’t want my local pizza joint to receive a visit from the Secret Service to inform them that they did not follow proper protocol.

Of course, my non-disclosure of this restaurant might result in me getting a visit, so there is still that possibility of writing the story about Secret Service agents knocking on my door.

But my neighbors already talk enough trash about me, so I told Special Agent in Charge Fitchen that I would be happy to drive the fake bill to their field office. And he promised that he would give me a thorough walk-through of the counterfeit bill investigatory process.

So maybe I’ll milk this for another story, considering I’m still out $20.

For more information about how to spot counterfeit bills, click on this United States Secret Service link.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News, Miami: Travel News,

Carlos Miller is a featured writer at Miami Beach 411. He also operates Photography is Not a Crime, a blog about photographer rights, New Media and First Amendment issues.

See more articles by Carlos Miller.

See more articles by Carlos Miller

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6 Comments on

"Miami is a Counterfeit Money Hub"

Jess says:

That is terrible that Walgreens gave you a fake $20. They have those pens to test for fake bills, they should have used it. Next time I get cash back I am going to ask them to prove to me that the bill isn’t fake!
ATMs are the way forward I guess.

Posted on 06/28/2011 at 8:12 AM

Mirna Arce says:

wow, I hear that a lot of counterfeit bills are $5, $10 or $20 notes because people don’t check them as often as the $50 or $100 notes and it’s easier for criminals to do their scam. Nowadays We need to check every bill note :(

Posted on 06/28/2011 at 8:38 AM

Doug says:

Scary! I guess this is one of the benefits of using my debit card for nearly everything!

Posted on 06/29/2011 at 4:01 PM

UTS says:

What a bummer.

We ( businesses ) haven’t gotten to accustomed to checking their intake of bills. n Latin America, where the abuse is more rampant, it’s normal.

Just last week, I tossed three Benjamin’s to pay a Costa Rican rafting outfitter. All bills pissed clean but one had a suspicious serial number and wasn’t accepted.

Posted on 07/01/2011 at 2:39 PM

laurab says:


Posted on 07/03/2011 at 8:03 AM

Davy V. says:

Great article! As someone who is here on vacation, this is something I did not know and will be very careful with. Thank you!

Posted on 07/06/2011 at 5:02 AM

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