Everybody loves an election year. The campaign volunteers are out and about, wearing matching T-shirts, holding clipboards and sticking lawn signs into the dirt. The TV is buzzing with the latest scooplet about this candidate’s silly gaffe or that candidate’s hilarious interaction with real people. The candidates themselves are running around like crazy, all smiles and handshakes and talking points. And all the while, the counterfeiters are printing so much fake money that they’re literally eating it.
Counterfeiters, candidates and campaigns have more in common than you might realize. Across the country, this year, there’s been an uptick in counterfeiting activity, and police in at least one of the affected areas say the election is to blame. You see, aside from their duties guarding candidates and their families — not to mention keeping an eye on the White House! — the Secret Service is responsible for policing our money supply. (Fun but dreadfully ironic fact: Abraham Lincoln established the Secret Service on the very same day he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth and tasked them with clamping down on the country’s counterfeiting problem. During the Civil War, as much as one third of America’s money was fake.)
During an election year, however, the Secret Service is overextended trying to keep all of the campaign stops staffed with security personnel that they’re left a bit short-handed when it comes to their money-watching duties. At least, according to one police chief. “[Agents are] spread very very thin this time of year, and that’s the very time that the counterfeit starts getting dumped on a community,” said Chief Patrick Berarducci of the Medina Police Department in Ohio where counterfeit bills have been popping up everywhere from fast food chains to the local church Bingo game.
Indeed, there’s been a rash of counterfeiting-related arrests the past few weeks. Besides the outbreak in Ohio, bills have been spotted in Michigan, where a Walmart gave a woman a fake $100 and then refused to pay her back after it was confiscated at the store next door. In Omaha, police say there’s been an uptick in the number of fake bills bills showing up in the market. Like in Ohio, somebody has been bleaching $5 bills and reprinting them to look like $20 or $50 bills. These bills have shown up as far south as Florida, as far west as Oregon and as far east as New Jersey, though it’s unclear if they came from the same source. Minnesota, meanwhile, is dealing with a “wave” of counterfeit currency. Last week, Creepa, winner of MTV’s “From G’s to Gents,” was caught with counterfeit cash in Gainesville. Then, of course, there’s the Buffalo, New York man who was arrested after trying to eat $1,200 worth of fake money, after he was caught trying to use a counterfeit $50 bill at an amusement park. And those are just the counterfeiters getting caught!
A morning phone call to a spokesman at the Secret Service’s New York field office yielded a polite request for patience on a busy day. “We’re at the UN today,” he said. In an article about stolen iPhones in May, Special Agent Pedro J. Escandon told the Times that counterfeiting is “constant.” He said the New York office gets 80 to 100 cases a year, most commonly involving the $100 bill. “It’s always going to happen.”
It’s unclear where exactly all of this money is coming from. Some of it evidently hails from Peru, “the world’s counterfeiting capital” which accounts for some 17 percent of all fake money in the United States. North Korea is also famous for baking its own supernotes. The rest could ostensibly be coming from somebody’s garage, where it only takes some bleaching chemicals and a decent inkjet printer to create passable bills. If that sounds like a tempting set up, just bear in mind that printing fake money is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in jail. But if you’re going to do it, you’d better act fast. There are only six weeks left in the campaign.