It was dark, the alcohol was flowing and dozens of Alexander Hamiltons and Andrew Jacksons were making their way into a downtown bar's cash register Friday night.
It wasn't until the next day that a manager at the Market Street Saloon realized that someone scammed the business out of $510 by passing bogus $10 and $20 bills.
Charleston police said the incident is the most brazen of several counterfeit cases to hit the city recently. In the last two weeks, eight businesses from West Ashley, James Island and downtown have been victimized by counterfeiters for a total loss of $730.
What's most disturbing, police said, is that the bills being passed aren't all that convincing.
"They're not sophisticated bills," Sgt. Trisha Taylor said. "It's just a bad print job."
Taylor said local businesses are doing themselves a disservice by not training employees to give the money a closer look.
Police collected 20 fake $20 bills and 11 fake $10 bills from the Market Street Saloon. The bills match the color scheme and general size of the newer bills but lacked the security features that can be easy to spot if you know what you're looking for.
"There are different qualities of counterfeiting," Taylor said. "This is very poor quality."
Most of the $10 bills had a green hue to them. Some of the $20 bills were smudged after getting wet.
Charleston Police Sgt. Donald Daquigan said much of the money looked as though it could have been printed on a $39 laser jet printer.
"If it's wet and the ink is going to run off, that's a dead giveaway," Daquigan said.
Taylor said it was understandable how fake money can be passed in a dark bar, but that's all the more reason for businesses to be more diligent.
"The important thing is that money has so many security features," Taylor said. "If you don't familiarize yourself with the security features it neglects the purpose behind them."
Ryan Sellers, a shift leader at Market Street Saloon, said that since the incident, the business is working with its employees to be more aware. She said they're going to use the counterfeit-detector pens more and look closer at even the smaller denomination bills, not just $100s and $50s.
Sellers, who didn't work that night, said she also can understand how some of the fake money could get passed along with real money in a dark and busy bar. In the light of day, however, she said she noticed that the some of the features on the $10 bill were not the correct size.
"Looking at it in the light of day I was able to spot it just like that," Sellers said.
Taylor and Daquigan said it's rare for someone to stay long enough at a business to pass more than a few bills.
"They're getting very blatant about it," Taylor said.
Police investigators are working with the U.S. Secret Service in an attempt to track the counterfeiters down, but the bottom line, they said, is businesses can help themselves by knowing what to look for.
Said Daquigan: "You have to take the time if you don't want to get burned."
Reach Andy Paras at 937-5589 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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