Rash of counterfeit bills in Belen

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With local businesses struggling to make a profit, an epidemic is plaguing the Hub City.

For the past couple of weeks, Belen police detectives have been investigating a high number of counterfeit bills being circulated among local businesses. While the crime isn't new, Detective Sgt. Joe Portio said this latest influx of funny money seems to be mainly in the city with only a couple of reported cases in other areas of the county.

Portio said the counterfeit money has been discovered at Walmart, Walgreens, Sonic, McDonald's, Dollar General and Family Dollar. And while the majority of the bogus cash is mainly $20 bills, more and more $10 and $5 counterfeit bills are showing up, which the detective says is not the norm.

"Several businesses have complained they got counterfeit money," Portio said. "It's six businesses — it's a lot. We've probably seized between $100 and $200 worth of counterfeit money."

The detective said the problem they're having with investigating the cases is that businesses will wait until they've accumulated several counterfeit bills before they call police.

"That doesn't help," he said. "They need to call and let us know as soon as they discover a counterfeit bill so, if the business has a surveillance system, we can try to identify the person, hopefully, that day."

Portio said while some businesses use counterfeit money detector pens, employees will only use them once in a while or only on bills worth $20 or greater. He said with this influx of $10 and $5 counterfeit bills being circulated around the city, he advises businesses to use them on every bill they can.

He also said because the pens don't work 100 percent of the time after a couple of week's of use due to the break down of the chemicals in the pens, he recommends businesses stock up on them to obtain a more accurate detection.

With new bills, Portio said, it's easier to detect counterfeit money because of the security strip embedded in the paper. But, the detective said, it's unlikely that most store clerks will take the time to check each bill for the strip.

"The majority of us use debit or credit cards to pay for our purchases nowadays," Portio said. "You find fewer people using legal tender anymore."

The detective said they first discovered the counterfeit $10 and $5 bills after a manager of one of the local businesses was counting the nightly deposit and came across a bill that didn't feel right.

"There have been a couple of cases in the county, but it's become an epidemic in Belen," he said.

He said a vendor at the local flea market, where only cash is normally exchanged, was lucky to have been aware and was able to spot a counterfeit bill someone was trying to pay with for an item.

"He just said when he was handed the bill that it had a different feel to it," Portio said.

Belen Police Detective Martin Benavidez has contacted the U.S. Secret Service to help investigate these cases.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.