Phony money passing as real cash; customers left penniless

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COLUMBUS , Ohio -- There’s a new warning about the cash in your pocket. Columbus Police say they have received six reports in the last month from people reporting fake cash. The reports are from people selling goods online, mostly in Precinct 14, which is in the east Columbus area near I-270, Broad and Main Streets.

“Sometimes they don’t realize until they try to spend it or deposit it in the bank,” says Sgt. Dennis Kline with the Fraud and Forgery unit at the Columbus Division of Police.

The money looks like real cash, but they have the words “FOR MOTION PICTURE USE ONLY” stamped on the front side. Sgt. Kline says scammers are buying the novelty cash online and then using the money to buy items sold on sites like Offer Up and Craigslist.

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“They’re hooking up to meet with these people, supposedly in a neutral location,” says Sgt. Kline. “After the person walks away, they find out the currency they have is counterfeit.”

The U.S. Secret Service has been trying to stop novelty notes from being passed as real money. Since 2016, more than $42,000 in Motion Picture Money consisting of $100’s, $50’s and $20’s have passed in the Columbus area.

“This currency is a problem not only in Columbus but nationally,” says Jonathan Schuck, Resident Agent in Charge for the U.S. Secret Service Columbus Office. “The currency is being sold online as a novelty note but is being passed by suspects with the intent to deceive people and businesses as being genuine.”

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Passing counterfeit is a maximum charge of 20 years federally. Agent Schuck says the Secret Service is actively trying to stop the manufacturing of this note, but authorities say that might be difficult.

“Legally, they’re on solid ground, they say it’s just for people to play with, not meant for people to use as a criminal tool,” Sgt. Kline adds.

Reynoldsburg Police recently posted a warning to a neighborhood watch group asking residents to be on alert.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself if you are trying to make some money on a buy-sell-trade online site. For starters, Sgt. Kline says never go alone. He also suggests taking a photo of the person, the car, and the license plate *before* that person drives away.

“I think you need to be bold about it. Be in control of the situation. If you come off as timid and weak, then you’re seen as a target that’s more easily manipulated,” he says.

Several police agencies in central Ohio now offer “safe exchange zones” either in parking spots right outside the police station or inside the police lobby. The idea is that criminals might be deterred from committing any kind of crime – such as a potential robbery – if they are around the presence of officers.

Sgt. Kline also suggests looking through the stash of cash you receive – front and back – to make sure all the bills you received during the sale transaction are real.

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