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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -
There was a time when a marker did the trick and it could tell the counterfeit from the real. However, the Secret Service said now counterfeiting has become an organized crime with hundreds of thousands of dollars passed in Louisiana annually.
$5, $20 & $100 -- they look like real bills, but all are counterfeit dollars seized by the Secret Service, the agency responsible for investigating and preventing counterfeiting.
"It affects everyone who resides in our area because sometimes you may get stuck with a counterfeit note, and it's important you know what it looks like. Because when it comes to counterfeit currency, whoever gets stuck with it or whoever possesses it, now owns it," said Secret Service agent Luis Velez.
Which is why it's important to catch it before someone hands it to you, just like Denham Springs clerk Kayla Ward did two weeks ago.
It's seen in the surveillance video, a woman went up to the counter and presented Ward with some $20's, but Ward caught it in time.
"It didn't feel right. I thought it was on the wrong paper. The edges didn't look right on it, and when I held it up, it didn't have the watermark or the safe line in it. I marked it with the counterfeit pen, and it showed up black," said Ward.
"In about probably 18 years, I'd say about $1,500 to $1,600," said Ancona's owner Mark Ancona.
That's how much counterfeit Ancona said has been passed at his family convenience store in Baton Rouge. He said they've seen fake $20's and $100's from time to time. But since he's been dealing with dollars for years, he knows exactly what to look for.
"I sit here and cash checks all day so I kind of have the feel for how the material feels. Also, there are a number of things on a bill that you can look at and basically get an idea whether it's real or not," said Ancona.
The texture is just the beginning. Remember that counterfeit marker that leaves a light mark for real bills and dark for fake? Well it worked for the store in Denham Springs, but a $100 bill that passes the marker test can actually be a fake. Here's why.
"They'll take a genuine $5 currency note. They will bleach it to where the ink runs off and then reprint it with higher denomination -- $50, $20, $100," said Velez.
So how do you know what's real and what's not? It's not always easy. I put a few people to the test: Baton Rouge Police Department's Sgt. Don Stone, WAFB reporter Graham Ulkins and myself.
Everyone had to pick from nine different bills, some $100's, others $20's. Some were real, others were not.
So how did we do?
No one was able to separate the real from fake, which goes to prove how easy it is to fall victim to one of the oldest crimes in history.
So would you know what to look for?
"You can see the security thread on the left says US $5 and does not match the $100 denomination. On the right, we have Abraham Lincoln, which does not match Ben Franklin. These are two easy ways to detect a bleached counterfeit note," said Velez.
Every bill $5 and up printed after 1990 has a security thread that matches the denomination. Every bill after 1996 has a watermark that shows the prominent face that belongs only on that bill.
Another test is a black light that turns the security thread into an ultraviolet strip with a different color for every bill.
"This is a genuine $5 note in the 2001 series. It's going to have a security strip to the left of the president. It's going to be blue in color," said Secret Service agent Jackie Norris. "That is a washed $5, which has been turned into a $100 note, but that's where the strip is on the $5. This is a genuine $100 note in that same series and you can see the security strip is moved slightly, but it's red in color."
A majority of bills printed before 1996 are out of circulation. Because they're not used often, they are sometimes confused for counterfeit, but pay close attention to the ink on those dollars.