News

Police in Southwestern Ontario using education sessions to combat counterfeit cash

Dale Carruthers

By Dale Carruthers, The London Free Press

St. Thomas police released a photo of these two counterfeit bills in March after rash of counterfeit cases in the city.

St. Thomas police released a photo of these two counterfeit bills in March after rash of counterfeit cases in the city.

If you can’t remember the last time you saw a paper banknote, you may be surprised to learn they’re a go-to thing for currency fakers.

And those plastic bills we’ve used for years, the kind that were supposed to protect us from counterfeit rip-offs?

Not fool-proof.

Counterfeiting refuses to die even in a high-tech money era, a problem so bad police in Southwestern Ontario are turning to special sessions to school up people on how to detect bogus bills.

So far this year, there’ve been 82 cases of counterfeit banknotes reported in the OPP’s west region, an area that takes in Southwestern Ontario.

Police forces in communities across the London area have also been dealing with counterfeit cash cases. Now the OPP is holding seminars, featuring experts from the Bank of Canada and the RCMP, to educate citizens and business owners about how to spot funny money and what to do if someone’s trying to pass it.

Counterfeit money is a “cyclical” problem that comes and goes in the region, making it difficult to crack down on, OPP Sgt. Dave Rektor said.

“Usually, the counterfeiters will target an area,” he said. “They’ll go in, they’ll make their killing then they’ll leave.”

The first educational seminar is scheduled Tuesday evening in Clinton, a small community in Huron County, where the OPP have launched 22 counterfeit money investigations, four of which resulted in charges.

Future seminars will be held in counties where the need arises, Rektor said.

Many of the counterfeit cash cases from earlier in the year involved large-denomination U.S. banknotes, but now the problem has grown to include smaller bills and Canadian currency.

Peaking in 2004, counterfeiting has declined since the Bank of Canada began circulating its high-security polymer, or plastic bills beginning in 2011.

But not even the polymer notes — with security features such as raised ink, transparent windows and hidden numbers — are immune from forgery.

“No banknote is immune,” said Bank of Canada spokesperson Josianne Menard. “The security features work if people check them.”

For every one million legitimate polymer bills in circulation, there’s just more than four fake notes, Menard said.

“It’s the lowest counterfeiting rate we’ve had in nearly 25 years,” she said.

Canada’s paper banknotes — making up 16 per cent of the $75 billion dollars’ worth of bills in circulation — are more likely to be forged, Menard said.

The RCMP, the agency responsible for leading counterfeit investigations, says the problem is often linked to organized crime.

Last year, 17,504 known counterfeit notes were passed in Canada, up slightly from 16,445 the previous year, according to the RCMP’s anti-counterfeiting bureau.

The $20 banknote was the most commonly forged bill, followed by the $100, while Quebec topped the list for where the most bogus bills were circulated.

Menard said people need to know their rights when it comes to forged bills.

“You’re never obligated to accept a note that you’re not convinced is genuine,” she said. “Because after that you can’t pass it.”

dcarruthers@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/DaleatLFPress

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IF YOU SUSPECT A FAKE

— Refuse the note; explain that you suspect it’s counterfeit

— Ask for another bill

— Tell the person to check the note with police

— Alert police

— Remember, the person with the bill may not know it’s fake

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DID YOU KNOW?

— Canada’s new high-tech plastic bills aren’t fool-proof against counterfeiting

— Paper banknotes, which still make up 16 per cent of the money in circulation, are more likely to be faked.

— Some 17,504 known counterfeit notes were passed in Canada last year, the Mounties say.

— The $20 banknote is the most commonly forged bill.