Tricky counterfeit $100s passed in the West Loop have a tiny, telltale flaw

CHICAGO — Will you see it? The easy-to-miss detail that confirmed a West Loop boutique worker’s suspicion that the $100 the store accepted yesterday was counterfeit? We’ve shared a picture of the bill below.

The funny money incident yesterday afternoon at a shop in the 1000 block of West Madison, is one of many counterfeit currency cases to pop up in Chicago lately. In fact, an employee told us that the guy who passed the fake $100 at the store yesterday did the same thing at another nearby store.

“The situation felt sketchy since he was paying for such a low-cost item with such a large bill,” the worker said last night. “I only briefly looked at it when I originally accepted it.”

But after the man left a $12 ring and $88 in genuine money he received as change, she took another look.

Here’s the fake $100 bill that a West Loop received on June 1. The watermark at the far right is of Alexander Hamilton, the man on $10 bills, not Benjamin Franklin. | Provided

Uh-oh. The bill had Benjamin Franklin’s face printed on it, but its watermark wasn’t of Benjamin Franklin. It was Alexander Hamilton, the guy on $10 bills.

Someone bleached a $10 bill until it turned white, then printed it with a $100 design. And, because the paper is genuine, the phony bill passed a counterfeit marker test, the woman told us.

Moments after hitting shop, the same guy passed another phony $100 at a store just a couple of doors down, she said. There, he bought an $18 candle and received $82 change in genuine currency.

Not-so-funny money

Earlier this year, prosecutors charged another man with passing similar bills. Coincidentally, he got caught in the West Loop.

Late on April 14, Antoine McGee, 43, sat down at a bar in the 800 block of West Randolph, asked for “the cheapest thing on the menu, and then ordered a Corona,” a prosecutor said during his bail hearing.

McGee gave the bartender a $100 bill and received change for his order, prosecutors said. The bartender showed the bill to his manager because he thought it looked funny.

Meanwhile, McGee flagged down another bartender and asked her to break another $100 bill, prosecutors said.

She obliged, then decided to test the bill with a counterfeit detection pen because it didn’t feel right. But, just like at the West Loop stores yesterday, the bill passed the test because the paper is genuine U.S. currency stock.

The second bartender took the bill to her manager anyhow. And the manager called the police.

Cops arrested McGee as he walked out of the establishment. As police handled the situation, a valet worker reported that McGee had given him change for yet another $100.

A Secret Service agent inspected the three passed bills and five others police allegedly recovered from McGee. The agent determined that the bills had genuine watermarks and security threads for $10 bills, not $100s, and some of the notes had the same serial numbers. The money had been “washed” and converted to the higher denomination.

During the court hearing, a prosecutor told Judge Barbara Dawkins that McGee indicated that he knew the bills were counterfeit. But McGee and his defense attorney told Dawkins that he did not know they were fake. The lawyer said that McGee received the bills from a woman as payment for landscaping services.

Less refined approach

Last week, prosecutors charged another man with passing fake $100 bills at a Logan Square grocery store. But his scheme, officials said, wasn’t as refined as the West Loop scam.

Prosecutors said Antoine Lee gathered a few items at Rico Fresh Market, 3552 West Armitage, and paid for them with a bogus $100 bill, receiving $72 in real money as change. Lee proceeded to the store’s restaurant area, presenting another fake C-note and receiving $65 in change.

But, unlike the West Loop bills, officials said, Lee’s funny money was wholly counterfeit. One of the bills even had the word “COPY” printed on it.

Both cashiers at Rico Fresh Market thought the bills were fake, and the manager stopped Lee as he headed out the door. Officials said Lee bit the manager’s arm during a scuffle, but he failed to escape before the police arrived.

Believe it or not, people have passed fake hundreds bearing the word “COPY” all over the country.

In February, two phony $100 bills bearing identical serial numbers and the word “COPY” were passed in Clear Lake, Wisconsin. That’s about an hour east of Minneapolis. Similar bills were found circulating late last year near the Canadian border in Norwood, New York.

Someone passed movie prop money, marked “COPY” and “For Motion Picture Use Only” near Cleveland in 2018. A version of the same bills popped up in Vermont.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is