Cleveland Rix has been using cash – as in paper bills issued by the federal government – to pay for most everything lately.
It is not his first choice, he said. Rather, it has to do with concerns he has about identity theft – a whole other story.
Cash has served him well, he said. That is, until a few weeks ago when he received money back from one of his cash purchases. He said he tried to feed a $10 bill into a self-checkout kiosk at Albertsons, but the cash machine wouldn’t accept it.
Upon closer inspection, Rix realized the bill was fake.
“It shocked me. It’s like ‘Holy crap, man.’ It looks and almost feels real, it’s that good,” he said.
Instead of “The United States of America” in the upper right corner, the counterfeit bills say “For Motion Picture Use Only.” And instead of “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private,” the fake bills say “This is not legal tender for motion picture use only.”
The fake bills also use the word “copy” in a few locations, and have “play money only” printed in small letters on the back. But otherwise, they look and feel authentic.
The Durango Police Department has investigated at least four incidents of similar counterfeit bills since July, including three in September.
One of the first reports of the fake bills appearing in Durango occurred on July 5, when police encountered a man and a woman smoking fentanyl on a riverbank adjacent to Albertsons, according to Durango police.
The woman was arrested on suspicion of being in possession of fentanyl and 5.56 grams of methamphetamine. She was also in possession of seven counterfeit bills that said, “Motion Picture Purposes,” at the top, according to DPD.
The fake bills included five $1 bills, a $2 bill and a $10 bill.
The woman was cited for being in possession of a controlled substance, but she was not cited for fraud because she was not suspected of passing or using the bills fraudulently.
Similar bills began showing up in September.
The La Plata County Humane Society received a $20 counterfeit bill in early September. A suspect was never identified.
In mid-September, a man passed a counterfeit $20 bill at the Marathon gas station on U.S. Highway 160 in west Durango. A suspect was never identified.
And in late-September, the Four Corners Community Bank received a counterfeit $20 bill in a deposit from an affiliate bank. No suspect was identified.
Rix said he has heard of other counterfeit bills being passed, including at PJ’s Gourmet Market and Ace Hardware in Durango.
Durango police Detective Sgt. Chris Thompson said prop money or “motion picture” money is legitimately used in motion pictures, music videos, advertising and training settings.
Possessing prop money is not a criminal offense – in fact, it can be purchased on eBay and Amazon – but intentionally passing fake money as if it were real is considered forgery, a felony in Colorado, Thompson said.
“For an officer to charge someone with forgery for passing motion picture money, they would have to prove the person intended to defraud the other,” he said in an email to The Durango Herald.
People who regularly handle money should become familiar with basic security features of real U.S. currency, Thompson said. Telltale signs of fake money include the use of words such as “Motion Picture Only,” “copy” and “replica,” he said.
U.S. currency can have several security features, including red and blue fibers embedded into the paper, color shifting ink, watermarks, a security thread and microprinting.
“If someone tries to purchase or pay for services using motion picture money then you should not accept the payment and notify law enforcement immediately,” Thompson said.