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Lectures alert businesspeople of counterfeits, fraud

November 11, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

Anyone with basic computer equipment can easily print counterfeit money these days, a U.S. Secret Service agent said Wednesday.

But the fake bills are also easy to spot, Special Agent Steve Campbell told a group of Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce members.

"Anybody can pinpoint what's wrong with a counterfeit bill. You've just got to know what you're looking for," he said.

A number of counterfeit $20 bills have been passed in Hagerstown recently.

A few hundred with the same serial number have popped up in this area and in nearby Carroll County, Md., Campbell said.

"In the Hagerstown area we're getting hit hard with these notes. We don't know where it's coming from," he said.

If you suspect that someone is trying to pay you with counterfeit money, don't try to confront them, Campbell said.

"Leave that to us," he said.

Try to get as much information about the person as possible. A description or, even better, a license plate number. Then call the police.

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Even a small piece of information can eventually steer authorities to the lawbreaker.

"It's like whittling away at an onion. One lead just leads to something else," he said.

Counterfeiting became a serious problem in the 1800s, when banks printed their own money. An estimated one-third of the currency in circulation during the Civil War was fake.

The Secret Service was created in 1865 to combat the problem.

Campbell gave his lecture to about 20 businesspeople at Hagerstown Community College's Advanced Technology Center.

The group also learned about credit card fraud.

Credit card fraud is not widespread in Washington County, said Rick Ziolkowski, regional manager of investigations for Citicorp Credit Services Inc.

Most of the larger operations are based in metropolitan cities.

Organized criminals get access to credit card numbers and rapidly charge hundreds of thousands of dollars on them before being discovered, he said.

They steal the numbers from almost any kind of business that keeps personal financial information about their customers.

Banks, insurance companies, medical offices, government agencies and even professional associations can be targeted.

A single identity can be worth as much as $300,000, he said.

Technology exists that would prevent identity theft by linking credit cards to fingerprint or eye retina identification, Ziolkowski said.

However, and banks have not been able to agree on what technology is best and the most cost-effective.

Civil liberties groups have also opposed the technology, he said.

See related story: How to spot the fakes

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