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Secret Service hopes to stop counterfeiting in metro area

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The U.S. Secret Service agent in charge for North Dakota said Tuesday that the agency hopes to stop a counterfeiting operation supplying fake bills that have been passed recently in Fargo and West Fargo.

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"There's no indication it's any type of big, large organized ring at this point or anything like that," said John Kirkwood, special agent in charge at the Minneapolis field office, which oversees Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

"But it does appear that through the good help of the (Fargo and West Fargo) police departments, we've established some potential suspects" and hopefully will suppress the counterfeiting plant, he said.

Fargo police have logged eight reports of counterfeit bills being passed to businesses this month, Sgt. Mark Lykken said.

The $20, $50 and $100 bills were passed at fast-food restaurants, bars and off-sale retailers, he said.

Fargo and West Fargo police each arrested one suspect last week on suspicion of possessing or trying to pass fake bills.

The West Fargo McDonald's was among businesses that alerted police to counterfeit bills. Manager Wendy Marx said the restaurant has been using a counterfeit-detecting pen for years to check $50 and $100 bills for authenticity.

"But with this situation, we've been doing them on the $20s as well," she said. "We heard lots of reports that they were going around town and things like that, so we made sure we had extra pens on hand and made sure we were marking them."

The pens, which leave a black mark on fake bills, are available at some office supply stores.

Kirkwood said the most important thing retailers can do is compare suspicious bills to authentic bills and look for security features, including the watermark visible on the right side when the bill is held under light, the color-shifting ink on all bills except the $1 and $5, and the security thread with the bill's denomination.

The pens can be fooled by so-called "bleach notes," which are small bills that are bleached and then reprinted at higher denominations on genuine currency paper, he said.

"So, they need to make sure that that watermark image does in fact match, (that) it's not Lincoln's face with a Benjamin Franklin portrait," he said.

The Minneapolis field office takes in "several hundred thousand" dollars' worth of counterfeit money every year, Kirkwood said. The stream of fake bills tends to peak before and during the holidays, and there's been no noticeable increase since the recession hit the region, he said.

"I think there are going to be people making it whether times are good or bad," he said.

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