Fake bills, real problem

Take a second look at your $20 and $10 bills. They may be fake.

Recent sightings of counterfeit money in the area have spread to Newton, Conover and nearly all of Catawba County’s municipalities.

Fake money has popped up in a host of fast food restaurants and convenience stores throughout the county since the first of the year.

Authorities are tracing many of the counterfeit bills back to high school students.

About 25 counterfeit incidents have been reported to Conover Police Department, which is working with the U.S. Secret Service and neighboring jurisdictions on the case.

The bills, which are mainly twenties, tens and a few fifties, started appearing toward the end of 2011 and have since increased in January and early February, said Conover Police Sgt. Jon Little.

“The pattern has been going through fast food restaurants. Most of them are going through the drive-through, and also the convenience stores,” Little said. “Those have been the two biggest victims.”

Conover Police have arrested one suspect in relation to the counterfeit incidents.

Devin Andrew Yancey, 18, of Conover, was arrested last week after passing bills at the McDonalds on U.S. 70. He was charged with possession of five or more counterfeit instruments and uttering a forged instrument — both felony offenses.

Yancey attended Newton-Conover High School, according to his Facebook page. Little said they’ve been able to track a lot of the bills back to high school students.

“The information we had is that juveniles have printed some of the bills and distributed them through the high school and some of those kids ended up with them,” said Little, adding that it is mainly students at Newton-Conover High School.

Students are printing the fake bills on regular copy paper using a home or office printer, he said.

The bills look pretty real, too. Despite being printed on copy paper, the fake money feels and even smells like real money.

“Some are pretty good copies,” Little said.

However, the fake bills have a few flaws and lack the proper watermarks, serial numbers and security thread. The bills also test positive when checked with a counterfeit pen.

Conover isn’t the only area suffering from counterfeit bills.

Hickory has dealt with more than 35 bills in recent months, and four phony bills have popped up in Newton since early December 2011.

Authorities in Claremont and Maiden have also had seen counterfeit bills in recent months.

In Newton, the Subway at 1905 Northeast Blvd. has had three different cases involving customers using counterfeit bills this year.

The most recent bill was reported Feb. 5, when a phony $20 bill changed hands.

Subway branch owner Vicki Joyner said she and her staff are marking every bill that is used at the restaurant.

“It adds an extra step to our process, but if you do it all the time, it becomes a natural response,” Joyner said.

She said store employees mark the bills in special ink used for counterfeit bills and check for the security bar. Even with that process, she said some bills slip through.

“It’s not always accurate when we mark them,” she said, adding that some of the counterfeits are very hard to separate from real money.

Newton Police say counterfeit bills pop up from time to time throughout the year. They are just one of the departments working together with Hickory police, Conover investigators and the Secret Service on the case.

Like the other departments, they have tracked some of the bills back to high school students.

“Some high schoolers had been making them on a copier,” said Newton Police Maj. Kevin Yarborough. “Our detectives are talking with Conover and Hickory detectives, and it’s possible that they are connected.”

Citizens or business owners who have questions about possible counterfeited bills should contact the closest police department. A full listing of police department phone numbers is available at catawbacountync.gov/depts/communic/phones.asp.