Local garage sales new target for cash counterfeiters

When you learn how a homeowner got stung with a bogus $20 bill, you’ll see why you’re better off to insist they take a cheap item for free – or leave your property immediately …

This bill looks OK until you take a much closer look at it!

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The garage sale for the new Sellwood residents was a pleasant affair, although not a big money-maker, for the Smith* family on September 1.

“Overall, we had a nice day,” says Mary Smith*. “Friendly neighbors came to look, and a few people stopped look at the stuff we’re trying to get rid of.”

But, about 1 pm, as they were winding down their sale, a man who they thought would be their final customer of the day walked up.

“This scruffy looking guy doesn’t browse around,” Smith says. “He immediately picks up a door knob, priced at 25-cents.”

When the man asks if she can break a $20 bill, Smith tells the shopper to just take it.

“He was brisk and gruff,” Smith tells us, “and insisted on paying for the door knob with this $20 bill.” And, of course, he got change.

Here’s the back side of the fake $20 bill.

The man walked away quickly, down the sidewalk and hopped into an older “funky blue” Suzuki Samurai being driven a female. They sped away.

Because the man looked and acted so differently from everyone else who stopped at the garage sale, Smith says, she took closer look at the bill she was handed. “It doesn’t feel like money, and looking closely, you can see it is fake.”

Although her husband hopped in his car and tried to find the vehicle, scam artists apparently sped away from the neighborhood, $19.75 in change and a used door knob richer.

Tell-tale signs
Looking back on the brief transaction, Smith says it’s now clear how this scam works.

A car and get-away driver park up the street a couple of houses from a garage sale. The other person gets out, selects an inexpensive item, insists on paying for it, and passes a bogus bill.

“I don’t want other people to be taken in by these people – or others like them,” Smith says.

Look closely and you can see the “crop marks” to help the counterfeiters cut the bills to size after they’ve been printed.

Portrait of a crook
Smith describes the man as being a 5’8″ tall Caucasian with a dark tan, like he spent a lot of time outdoors. He has blue eyes and dark brown hair – short cut, but under a deep blue ballcap. At that time he was unshaven, with a day or two growth of beard. He was wearing jeans, a colored T-shirt and boots, perhaps work boots. His complexion was fairly clear, and appeared to have teeth (unlike meth addicts).

They made their escape in old, smaller open-topped jeep-like vehicle; possible a blue Suzuki Samurai. Because it was parked down the block, they didn’t get the license plate.

Don’t get burned by a bogus bill
“It wasn’t that great of a loss,” relates Smith. “When you look at the bill, it’s passable. But we still feel a bit taken and foolish. We don’t want others to be taken in like we were by these criminals – or any others – who are doing this.”

Making and passing counterfeit money is a federal crime. If you are victimized, call the Portland Police immediately.

*We’ve changed the name of the family affected to protect their privacy.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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