After a stash of funny money turned up in the city, Charleston police are advising local businesses and residents to inspect any $100 bills they may encounter.
The alert was issued Thursday morning shortly after police discovered dozens of century notes — some 64 in all, which would have been worth $6,400 if real — strewn across the ground at an undisclosed location in a residential section of northwest Charleston.
Interim Charleston Police Chief Jerry "Bubba" Williams II said police Investigator Travis Nichols was on foot patrol while working another case when he came across the first piece of paper at approximately 9:30 a.m. He soon saw other bills nearby and contacted Williams.
"I went out and we looked around," the chief noted. "It was scattered across a piece of property, where it appeared the wind had blown it. It was everywhere. ... We probably covered about a 50-yard by 50-yard area to pick all of that up."
Williams said the paper was wet and some of it was stuck together, indicating it probably had been rained on.
The bills are not counterfeit, but they are not legal tender either, the chief explained.
They are what the entertainment industry calls "prop money." It's the type of paper a moviemaker would use to fill a suitcase or to build realistic-looking bundles of cash for a bank vault scene.
To the casual observer, it looks like the real thing — not your typical undersized play money or colorful costume currency.
Unfortunately, that close resemblance could cause problems in certain situations, said Williams.
"If someone takes one of these into a busy store and the clerk doesn't mark it [with a counterfeit detection pen], they are going to accept it," he noted.
The chief said there is no way to know who owned the movie money found Thursday or whether any of it will be circulated locally, but he said the risk was enough to issue the warning.
"We want to ask the businesses to pay attention to the money. Look at it, read it, mark it. And if they ever are uncertain, call us."
Closer inspection reveals some obvious indicators that this is not U.S. currency.
On the face of the bills, in the upper lefthand where "FEDERAL RESERVE NOTE" appears in dark type on real money, these notes bear the words, "FOR MOTION PICTURE USE ONLY." That phrase is on the back of the bills, too.
In the top outlying border above Benjamin Franklin's image, where the words "ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS" would be printed on actual currency, only "ONE HUNDRED" is visible.
Perhaps the most obvious giveaway to anyone who inspects the bill is that, to the right of Franklin's head, where legitimate $100 bills feature "THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" in large print and, just below that, "This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private," the costume money again has the words, "FOR MOTION PICTURE USE ONLY" and, underneath, "This note is not legal tender..."
The play money repeats the "not legal tender" sentence in large reverse type at the bottom of Franklin's photo.
The copper-colored inkwell to the left of the bill's serial number is inverted, turned upside down, on the play money. On a legal $100 bill, inside the inkwell is a bell that changes color from copper to green when looked at from different angles. On real paper, the numeral beside the inkwell also should change color.
Some other security features are missing from the imposter bills, such as a hologram and images in the vertical blue ribbon on the front of the paper that change from miniature liberty bells to 100s when the bill is moved.
The detector pens make a mark on the movie money that will turn dark blue-black, just as it would on counterfeit paper.
While there have been no reports in Charleston of anyone trying to pass one of the movie bills as actual currency, Nichols said a local merchant did notify police after finding a single motion picture bill in his parking lot "a few months ago."
If a business accidentally accepts one of the bills, Williams said the police should be notified as soon as the fraud is discovered.
"Someone will come out and do a small report and collect it," he noted.
If a customer tries to use one of the bills and the clerk detects the fake on the spot, the chief said the customer should be told that it is not real, the store has to seize it and the police are being notified. If the person is not knowingly trying to deceive, he should be willing to wait for police to arrive, Williams added.