COLLIER COUNTY — With long lines snaking to their registers, local cashiers would be wise to keep this in mind: It’s the holidays for crooks, too.
Authorities are warning that with a still-recovering economy, thieves and scammers could be busier than usual this year trying to pass stolen and counterfeit bills, checks and credit cards.
And professional thieves know exactly where to strike, said Cpl. Dennis Huff, of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s Crime Prevention Unit.
“I’m looking for that small to medium, understaffed, inexperienced, busy store,” Huff said.
Well-trained employees are the key to detecting and avoiding scams, but with only two days left until Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, it may be too late to implement a full-fledge training program. Still, Huff said there are simple things that even a novice cashier can do to avoid being victimized.
Identifying counterfeit bills
Throughout his law enforcement career, Huff has seen counterfeit bills produced by people with a range of abilities, from amateurs who cut the corners off $100 bills and paste them to small bills, to pros who wash small bills and reprint them as large bills.
Huff suggests the following:
■ Get to know the feel of U.S. currency, which is printed on paper that is one-fourth linen and three-fourths cotton.
■ Look for the color shifting ink, which is used to print the denomination on the bottom right corner. The ink, which is difficult to reproduce, changes from green to copper when tilted. On the $20 bill, it appears to be in President Andrew Jackson’s line of sight.
“He’s looking at the color-shifting ink, and you should be too,” Huff said.
■ Hold the bill to a light to see the security thread that runs down the side of the bill that reads “USA” followed by the denomination. All new bills $5 and greater have security threads.
■ Hold the bill to a light to see a watermark of the bill’s portrait, identical to the portrait of the president or dignitary at the center. Newer $5 bills have a watermark of the number “5” replacing the portrait.
Kimberly Oswalt, a manager at Sunshine Ace Hardware in Naples, purchased small LED lights for each register at her store so cashiers can easily scan all $20, $50 and $100 bills.
“Once you get into that habit, it’s not really hard,” she said of the process. “It’s like riding a bike.”
■ Don’t rely on pens advertised to detect counterfeit bills. The iodine-based pens only tell if the bill is printed on the right paper, but won’t detect washed bills.
Detecting stolen or counterfeit checks
The good news, Huff said, is fewer people are using checks. The bad news, passing a stolen or counterfeit check is relatively easy.
Huff suggests the following:
■ Most checks come in a check book and have a perforated edge when they are torn out. Be wary of people who pay with a single check that they pull from their wallet or pocket.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, but it’s kind of odd that it’s not in a checkbook like it belongs,” Huff said.
■ Check the customer’s driver license or identification. Make sure the names and signatures match on the ID and the check, and make sure the picture on the ID is of the customer.
“Once you get the check, the first words out of a cashier’s mouth should be, ‘And can I see some picture ID please?’” Huff said.
■ Make sure the check is in the correct amount.
■ The bottom of the check should have, from left to right, a routing number, an account number, and a check number that corresponds to the check number on the top of the check.
■ Be wary of plain checks with no design, weave or border.
Spotting stolen credit cards
Similar to identifying a stolen or counterfeit check, Huff said that when presented with a credit card, cashiers should ask for a picture ID to compare the name and signature. According to Visa and MasterCard rules, “See ID” is not a valid signature.
Cashiers should also be cautious of any card with a magnetic strip that appears to have been altered.
If in doubt about any form of payment, Huff said employees should call a manager.
“What makes all of this work, particularly at the holiday season, is the pressure from the customer at the point of purchase,” he said. “You have to resist the fact that there are three or four customers standing there to keep you from doing the things you need to do to make sure the currency you’re taking or the check you’re taking is a good one.
“It seems like a long time to do those checks, but after you’ve done a few of them, it’s pretty quick and you’re done and you go on.”
Local retailers who would like a one-on-one presentation can call the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s Crime Prevention Unit at (239) 252-0700 or e-mail Cpl. Dennis Huff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Connect with Ryan Mills at www.naplesnews.com/staff/ryan_mills/