I have never, as far as I know, come into possession of a counterfeit bill. I likely wouldn't know it even if I had.
I'm not an expert on American currency, beyond that George Washington is on the dollar bill, U.S. Grant is on the fifty, and Ben Franklin adorns the hundred, among a few others.
But apparently at every retail outlet, I am a potential passer of bad bills---"funny money."
I'm sure it's happened to you. The cashier takes your twenty or fifty or one hundred dollar bill, holds it up to the light, and/or strikes it with a magic counterfeit detector pen.
Every time, my money has passed the test.
But I always get the same thought when the cashier does his/her thing: What in the world would I do if I was told the bill I was trying to use was fake?
Would bells and sirens go off in the store? Would the house lights go out and a spotlight rain down on me? Would a cop jump from behind the counter? Would the cashier take an ax and strike a piece of glass, alarming the Secret Service?
Seriously---what would you say to a cashier who told you, "Sorry sir/ma'am, but I'm afraid this is a counterfeit bill"?
How many of us know the origin of the bills we carry in our wallet? Unless you come straight from the bank, the paper currency in your possession right now probably came from several different retail outlets over the course of several days.
How could any of us say, with any certainty, "Oh, THAT bad $50? I got that back in change at Target."
So what would happen if confronted with phony money we were trying to use?
Would we be on the hook for it? After all, we are the ones trying to use it?
How do you plead innocence? The cashier has, in a way, caught you red (or should I say, green) handed.
Would the police listen to your pleas of ignorance?
I also wonder if the cashiers themselves have been trained on what to do if the bills they hold up to the light and strike with the magic pen turn out to be fake.
Maybe they're just as terrified as we are of finding phony dough.
I used to work in a drug store in college back in the 1980s, and the closest I ever came to seeing anything counterfeit was when a man tried to pass off a prescription for Dilaudid---a very powerful pain killer---that was proven to be fake.
He was led out of the store in handcuffs.
But then again, I didn't have a magic pen for dollar bills, nor was I trained on how to hold paper currency up to light and look for telltale things.
Now clearly, counterfeiting will always be one of the biggest cat-and-mouse games that is played in this country. The U.S. Treasury continues to come up with more sophisticated ways of minting money, and criminals keep doing their best to keep up.
It's kind of like car theft.
I always thought counterfeiting---really good counterfeiting---was done in order to pass large sums of fake money off as real. I never looked at it as a nickel-and-dime, Joe-Shmoe type of criminal activity.
I just think that if a bill I tried to use didn't pass the magic pen or light test, you'd have one startled cashier and one clue-free customer staring at each other in wonderment.
I wonder if either of us would know what to do.
ADDENDUM: Someone pointed me to this article. Read it and weep. I did.