Southeast Alaska businesses scammed with fake cash

Wrangell police recovered a few fake $100 bills that were given to local stores. (June Leffler/ KSTK)

Some funny money has been circulating in the Southeast city of Wrangell. Authorities aren’t calling it counterfeit, since the fake Benjamins were likely purchased online as play money. Still, the c-notes were realistic enough to dupe a few cashiers in this island town.

Shelby Smith works as a gas station attendant at the Alpine Minimart in Wrangell. On a Monday, she says a guy came in and paid cash — or so she thought.

“We were busy at the time. People give us hundreds all the time. He got gas, got cigarettes,” she said.

But after a closer look, the bill did seem suspicious. Once business slowed down she had a look with her boss. 

“We get bills all the time that have stamps on it — it had Chinese writing, but if you held it up it didn’t have a line through the bar. So it was clearly fake,” Smith said.

Word of the fake hundred dollar bills has since spread through town almost as quickly as the funny money. Businesses and the banks managers put the word out.

So grocery store manager Jake Hale made sure his cashiers knew what to look for. Still, at least one got through.

“The Chinese letters printed on it basically say ‘THIS IS FAKE,’” Hale said. “But if you don’t read Chinese you can’t read the stamp.”

The fake money wasn’t a local product. Like most things it was imported. Wrangell police suspect it was bought online.

“Looking at the internet you can buy them in stacks of $10,000 a face,” said Wrangell Police Lt. Bruce Smith. So far less than 10 bills have been pulled from circulation. 

“That means there’s probably about 90 plus more of these around town, at a minimum,” he said.

There are numerous potential sources. Websites like sell fake money ostensibly for entertainment or theatrical purposes. Hale says he’s been researching potential origins over the past week.

“There are a lot of fake bills on there that look really well done, but they supposedly get away with it because they have a small print on it that says ‘movie money’,” he said.

Other sites are more suspicious, marketing counterfeitbills designed to dupe folks.

Wrangell police haven’t said whether they have any suspects. If they do, prosecutors could charge anyone passing funny money with either forgery or theft. 

In case you’re wondering — and you must be — $10,000 worth of these funny bills only cost about $25 online.

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