Man Arrested For Passing Not-Counterfeit $50 Bill

If you’ve ever been stuck having to buy something with a $50 or $100 bill in the last decade, you have probably had to stand there while a store clerk performs the marker test to see if the note is legitimate. Unfortunately, that test doesn’t work on older bills, and that’s how a Tennessee man ended up in jail over the weekend.

After a $50 bill didn’t pass muster at a Shelbyville-area convenience store, the clerk notified police, who then arrested the man attempting to use it as legal tender.

“The front side of the bill was off center and it didn’t feel like a normal bill, it did look to be counterfeit,” wrote the arresting officer in his report.

It wasn’t until after the man was behind bars that an evidence tech at the police department mentioned that the markers won’t work on older bills.

So the officer took the bill to two banks, both of which deemed it “real but very old.”

Finally, the man was released. The officer apologized and told him to have a bank exchange the old bill for a new one.

On the topic of false arrests for real bills, Consumerist reader Mark points us to a this story of a 13-year-old girl in Georgia who was recently charged with trying to pass a genuine $20 bill.

So if you have any old $50 or $100 bills you received as a gift from grandma, you might want to take a second look at it. And if you ever think you may actually be in possession of a counterfeit bill, the Secret Service has these instructions on how to notify them.

Old $50 bill found real, but not before bearer arrested [ via SeattlePI]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Bort says:

    might the bill be worth something to collectors, being off center may make it a rare bill thats worth real money

    • belsonc says:

      I was just thinking that – I don’t remember the old bills being off center…

    • tkmluv says:

      Yea, but now it has a nice black line on it from the marker.

    • dorianh49 says:

      Yeah, but it’s probaby going to sit on my shelf for a couple years before someone buys it. I can give you, like, 3 bucks for it.

    • mister_roboto says:

      I’ll give him $49 for for it.

    • lostalaska says:

      Probably nothing weird with the bill besides it being old.

      “The front side of the bill was off center and it didn’t feel like a normal bill, it did look to be counterfeit”

      …is probably just their boilerplate response they fill out on the paperwork for arresting anyone under the suspicion of trying to use a counterfeit bill.

    • Shadowman615 says:

      Don’t they get printed in sheets? May have just gotten misaligned in the cutter.

    • philpm says:

      It has to be pretty severely off center to be collectable. Occasionally sheets will get slightly off center in the cutter and will have uneven margins.

      All that being said, being arrested because a clerk can’t tell real from fake is just fucking pitiful.

    • LochNess says:

      once that marker has been used on it, it’s not going to be worth anything other than $50.

  2. AtlantaCPA says:

    When he says the front side was ‘off center’ does he mean the portrait is not in the middle? As in the way it is supposed to look after that redesign that put the portraits off center? “Doesn’t feel right” and “off center” are both kind of vague.

    • Costner says:

      He likely means the printing is offset from the paper, thus the border around the printed image isn’t exactly equal. This is very common – in fact I just checked my own cash and it is the case in five out of the ten bills I am currently carrying.

      It has to do with the printing process and the cutting process, but unless it was very, very offset this should not be a red flag.

    • redskull says:

      Well the article did say this happened in Shelbyville, where they advocate marrying your cousin, and steal your lemon trees.

  3. BradC says:

    It was only $50, he stayed there and waited for the police instead of just running, and they still arrested him? Would “impounding” money and writing him a ticket of some sort not have been enough?

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Counterfeiting is a felony, so just giving him a ticket would not be sufficient.

    • donnie5 says:

      Kid at my high school (back in 1998) thought it would be awesome to scan a $20 and then print it out on our schools brand new color printer. He showed the wrong kid and ended up talking to the police, and get this, the secret service.
      Although he committed to the Marines, he was no longer aloud to join up for the armed services. They take it REALLY seriously when you counterfeit money.

      • Free Legal Advice! says:

        We did that too, back in ’94. We abandoned the project when we couldn’t replecate the magnetic strip. Don’t give ten to twenty smart kids unfettered access to computers, the internet, and a very good scanner/printer.

      • MrEvil says:

        Was he rejected by other branches of the military? The Marines do exclude more candidates than the other branches, but I doubt innocently copying a $20 as a child would get him barred from service.

        Though I wouldn’t doubt such an act would make getting a security clearance difficult.

      • j2.718ff says:

        “and get this, the secret service”

        You say that as if the secret service isn’t ordinary the department who investigates fake currency.

    • dush says:

      No, banking controls everything with the Federal Reserve at the top.
      Even suspicion of counterfeitting one of their Reserve notes is worse than murder.

  4. Blueskylaw says:

    Here is a really cool story:

    $2 bill incidents

    WOZ [ co founder of Apple inc.] incident:

    Steve Wozniak has been known to pay for services using a $2 note from a “pad” of money—he buys uncut sheets of bills from the Treasury and has them bound into booklets; they are fully legal tender despite their perforated edges. On one occasion, this got him into a spot of trouble at a casino in Las Vegas.

    About 3 years ago I took my daughter, Sara, to Las Vegas for a gymnastics regional that she was in. During the lengthy warmups my wife and I walked down to the Hard Rock Casino and played slot machines. While generously feeding these machines I tipped the waitress a couple of $2 bills. Waitresses in casinos and other places often exclaim at how much they like getting these and how their kids love them. I have tons of $2 bill stories that will make a whole chapter in my book someday. My $2 bills are real and legit but unusual.

    A short while later a casino security manager sat down next to me. He was very quiet and showed no emotion about anything. He was 30-ish and acted like a dedicated security man who knew everything about every type of cash situation ever. This man asked me where I’d gotten the bills and I started a little BS about buying them from a guy that hawked basketball tickets. I sometimes say this to peak the interest in people that wonder if these bills are real or not. I said that I thought the bills were good and acted like I didn’t know what was going on, just enough to seem evasive. This man told me that they had tested the bills with their testing pen and that the bills were good.

    To read the rest, click on link.

    • CalicoGal says:

      *pique* the interest….

    • do-it-myself says:

      “(I’d already transferred the maximum yearly tax free gift of $10,000 to each of my kids).”

      This is seriously the best part of this story. Is it too late to be adopted?

      • MonkeyMonk says:

        This must be an old story because the cap on this was raised to $13,000 years ago. Plus, each parent can now give the maximum amount.

        I know this from experience. :)

      • Not Given says:

        I think it’s up to $13k, now.

    • ClemsonEE says:

      It is a Clemson tradition to pay in $2 bills when we go to bowl games. I typically do it for every away game I go to as it’s fun to see people’s reactions when you pay with $2 bills. Also, many of us stamp them with orange Clemson paws as well.

      Go Tigers

      • George4478 says:

        Due to the Clemson tradition of not being able to count past 2.

        Ga Tech, Class of ’85. Go Jackets!

        • pythonspam says:

          Burdell, is that you?

        • ClemsonEE says:

          Ironically, we started the tradition because Georgia Tech wanted to cancel our series together and didn’t think that we had an impact on your sales in Atlanta on gamedays. Which we clearly made a huge impact, and that’s why we’ve kept the tradition for bowl games.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      Security guy used an iodine pen as the test? Good grief.

  5. XianZomby says:

    Sometimes I get totally OCD about my wallet, usually if there’s a stack of dirty ones in there, or ones and some 20s. Then I wash them in the sink, starch them, and iron them dry with sharp creases.

    I understand the money-tester marker changes color for starch, which is not supposed to be present in paper currency.

    I apologize.

  6. CrazyMann says:

    Looking at the instructions on how to notify the Secret Service….

    “Contact your local police department or United States Secret Service field office. These numbers can be found on the inside front page of your local telephone directory.”

    What is this “Local telephone directory” they speak of? Quick, I need to report a counterfiter, find me a phone book stat!!!!

    • scoosdad says:

      Or ask your local prostitute. They’ll know where to find the Secret Service if they’re in town.

  7. Kryndis says:

    Pfft, typical Shelbyville. This never would have happened at the Springfield Kwik-E-Mart!

    • Nobby says:

      I assure you Chief Wiggum would have come down on this guy like a ton of creme-filled donuts.

    • Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

      I knew there’d be a Simpsons reference in this comment thread somewhere as soon as I read “Shelbyville” in the OP.

      But didn’t Matt Groening declare the “Springfield” the Simpsons live in is based around the Springfield in Oregon? Is there a Shelbyville next door? That’s too much for me to ask–Google’s not my friend, despite me typing this on an Android tablet.

  8. phobos512 says:

    Good thing we presume people are innocent until proven otherwise. Oh, wait…

    • Coffee says:

      You’re talking about in a court of law. Police are trained to assume that you are guilty and do everything in their power to get you to admit. There’s a very good lecture on youtube about it:

      • oldwiz65 says:

        I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had beaten a confession out of him and charged him with felony passing counterfeit money. It would sound just like most cops these days.

  9. Hobz says:

    I didn’t realize they arrested an individual for passing a single counterfeit bill? I thought that they (police) were supposed to hold onto the bill and call the Secret Service or FBI.

    How did the police office know that the individual passing the bill didn’t just get it from some place else?

    • bluline says:

      Good question! Any of us could have a counterfeit bill right now, and there’s probably a pretty decent chance that we’ve had and passed one unknowingly in the past. There’s a huge difference between deliberately passing a bill that one knows or suspects is fake versus innocently passing a bill that isn’t obviously fake and with no intent to defraud.

    • Hartwig says:

      This was my question, i can’t believe they would arrest someone for one 50 dollar bill. Seems like the officer should have noted the person who tried to use the bill and then taken it as evidence instead. I guess it’s safer to use a card.

  10. CharlesFarley says:

    Imagine if he had paid for the goods with that $50 and then refused to show his receipt at the door!!

  11. plasmatop says:

    He should have went one town over and shopped at the Kwik-E-Mart, they never would have called the police on one of their customers. Also, the police in that town are pretty incompetent.

  12. TinaBringMeTheAx says:

    I was a teller back during the Carter administration.

    I was passed, I think, two counterfeit five dollar bills over my six month career, and all we did was confiscate them and send them to the Secret Service.

    No fuzz got involved.

  13. Emperor Norton I says:

    US paper money is made from 100% “rag content” paper, no wood pulp, which has starch added to it.
    Because the maker turns dark only if there’s starch in the paper, Penn Jillette likes to spray starch on money & then spend it.
    Maybe he had a bill Jillette used.

  14. Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

    Best way to notify the Secret Service? Become a call girl!

    (ooo… burn).

    Sorry – I really couldn’t help myself.

  15. Pete the Geek says:

    “The officer apologized and told him to have a bank exchange the old bill for a new one.” In other words, it was still the victim’s fault for passing such an old bill.

  16. CubeRat says:

    Old does not mead fake.

    Years ago, a friend worked a second job as a security guard at Christmas. One day, a manager was yelling at a young cashier for accepting money that was obviously counterfeit. There was a large crowd forming and my friend went over. He saw the bills were old silver certificates and tried to inform the manager that the bill were real. The manager continued to yell and the cashier was crying. My friend offered to buy the bills, at face value, to end incident. Both of these bills were in pristine condition, and they reside in my friend’s money collection.

    • Coelacanth says:

      Smart cookie… I’d likely have done the same.

    • OSAM says:

      I actually just did the “check-the-keyboard-to-see-if-that-typo-is-allowable” and “meaD” is not an acceptable typo of “meaN”.

  17. redskull says:

    Doesn’t surprise me. Last year I briefly had a part time job as a cashier in a grocery. At various times two different teen cashiers were handed two dollar bills. One cashier asked me if it was real money, the other asked me if were allowed to accept it.

  18. 2 Replies says:

    So much for innocent until PROVEN guilty.
    The dude should sue for damages (time wasted and emotional stress).

    • ajaxd says:

      He wasn’t found guilty. He was arrested and released with an apology.

      • RandomLetters says:

        He spent a weekend in jail. Thats worth more than an “Oops, my bad.” I’d speak to the chief of police and maybe the mayor about some kind of retraining (or training) for the officer involved. He should have gathered all the facts and investigated everything then made an arrest if it was warrented.

        • oldwiz65 says:

          Why didn’t the cops bill him for the use of the jail and the food he consumed?

          • RvLeshrac says:

            Ah, the shit food and miserable conditions are clearly substantially more important than the permanent damage this does to the guy’s life.

          • dilbert69 says:

            Because he would have paid the bill with counterfeit money. :-)

    • Doubting thomas says:

      Do yourself a favor and take a civics class. Or simply apply some logic. Police commonly arrest a suspect before the trial. By the logic you are espousing if the police caught a bank robber in the act they would have to schedule him a court date and just let him walk away. What happened in this case was that the error was discovered before a court date could be scheduled and the police let him go.
      Not that he should have been arrested in the first place, the cops should have educated themselves a bit before making a felony arrest, but it in no way violates the legal concept of innocent until proven guilty.

  19. Ben says:

    He was clearly a time traveler.

  20. Lyn Torden says:

    I blame the marker maker!

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      I would be VERY tempted to sue them too. They have misled the public and sell these rather pricey markers that won’t stop a determined counterfeiter.

  21. JohnDeere says:

    lawsuit time

  22. Power Imbalance says:

    So much for innocent until PROVEN guilty…

    • Republicrat says:

      While I am not defending the police, the man was not convicted of a crime. He was arrested based on what the police thought to be probable cause. The question here really is whether or not the marker test is sufficient probable cause for counterfeiting. It’s no secret that the markers don’t work on older bills – I’m sure there is documentation that is distributed with the markers that specifically mention this.

      However, since I’m not a lawyer, I can’t really say whether or not the police were in the right here. My guess is that while morally and ethically wrong, the police did nothing wrong legally. I wish it was otherwise though. I’d like to see the book thrown at the cops.

      • jtp says:

        Background checks tend to reflect the arrest/charge and report very little on case disposition. More responsibility NEEDS to be placed on the Gomer Pyle/Barney Fife types that seem to be so common these days. I have no problem with probable cause, but when its found due to the sub-zero IQ of the officer on the scene, that I have a problem with.

      • Skyhawk says:

        The utter lack of currency knowledge by local PD is not grounds for ‘reasonable suspicion’.

        The fact that the bill is real is prima facia evidence that the grounds were not reasonable.

  23. Snape says:

    I am just glad they didn’t try to cover it up when they realized they were incorrect.

  24. Republicrat says:

    Apart from the fact that this man was arrested and put in jail unjustifiably is the fact that he will have a permanent record of this false arrest.

    When he goes to apply for a job that requires a background check (most of them these days) they will see the arrest for counterfeiting and summarily deny him the job based on that alone.

    Police and cashier incompetence have basically ruined this man’s life.

  25. SmokeyBacon says:

    This may be a stupid question, but if I do think I have a counterfeit bill, and I give it to the secret service, are they going to replace it with a real bill of the same denomination? Because if I got it say because a clerk didn’t catch it and I didn’t start to suspect it until later (say after I went home or something) and I give it to the secret service then I am out that amount of money. And unlike the secret service I don’t have cash I can just give up like that. I went to the link in the article but it doesn’t say anything about that.

    • Not Given says:

      No, you eat the loss.

    • Hobz says:

      You will lose the money. What’s even worse is that you could have received the counterfeit bill from your bank. They will not take responsibility for passing the counterfeit tender. You almost need to carry a pen with you to check the change your given back.

    • Free Legal Advice! says:

      Unofrtunately, you are out the money if you possess a copunterfeit bill. A sneaky and slightly unethical (possibly illegal) way to get the full value for your money is to try to deposit it at an ATM. The money is comingeled, so the bank would then be left holding the proverbial bag.

      • hobochangbar says:

        While they don’t require envelopes any longer they do scan every deposit now so they very likely link the SN from the bill with the transaction. Now whether they make much of an effort to look for conterfeit bills or not is another matter. Might be able to slip one past but I’d bet stack of duplicate serial numbers would get flagged by their software.

    • balderdashed says:

      Not a stupid question, but an odd one if you think about it. If you are passed a counterfeit bill, you are already “out” the amount of money that bill represents. It’s unfortunate that you were the victim of a crime, but just who do you think should take the financial loss here (given that the original counterfeiter is unlikely to volunteer)? If you were the victim of some other crime (a robbery, a mugging, identity theft, whatever) would you expect the government to compensate you for your losses?

    • Captain Obvious says:

      I got some bad bills at a restaurant one time and tried to use them at a grocery store. They just handed them back to me and said they were no good. I used them at the movies where they never check the bills.

  26. KillerBee says:

    “The officer apologized and told him to have a bank exchange the old bill for a new one.”

    More accurately: The officer said “Sorry for your luck” and still managed to find a way to blame the dude for something that was clearly not his fault.

  27. SharkD says:

    This happens all the time in Ogdenville, North Haverbrook and Brockway. It’s a shame that it’s spread to Shelbyville.


  28. digitalgimpus says:

    Should consider suing the store…

    They do have a responsibility to train their employees, and making false police calls is a felony. Clearly they failed.

    That said, if a mall cop can do this, PD should have been able to do so on the scene.I don’t really buy that it was done after the fact.

    • dush says:

      Yeah, he got incarcerated due to their stupidity. He’s surely have a case against them.

  29. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    The markers are first line detection and arrests should NEVER be made off of them. They react to startch.. And money (even old money) won’t contain starch in the paper… Unless it has been washed and starched with clothes… or any number of things.

  30. mcgyver210 says:

    FALSE ARREST & Imprisonment Period!!!

    I would definitely make a stink very Publicly about this & make it a goal to destroy everyone involved especially the LEO but I am not very forgiving by nature.

    Before anyone says he was just doing his job I would bet he wouldn’t have liked it if he was arrested wrongly but of course he wouldn’t be anyway since he enjoys immunities for most everything he does wrong.

    Might even be a legal action against the store who falsely accused him.

  31. Goose says:

    I’ve always wondered what the point of the new bills was, when a counterfeiter can just as easily make a counterfeit bill from 40 years ago…

  32. mcgyver210 says:

    FALSE ARREST & Imprisonment Period!!!

    I would definitely make a stink very Publicly about this & make it a goal to destroy everyone involved especially the LEO but I am not very forgiving by nature.

    Before anyone says he was just doing his job I would bet he wouldn’t have liked it if he was arrested wrongly but of course he wouldn’t be anyway since he enjoys immunities for most everything he does wrong.

    Might even be a legal action against the store who falsely accused him.

  33. MurderGirl says:

    Oh, Tennessee. He would have been fine if he’d used Confederate money.

  34. cbutler says:

    I remeber when the new $20 came out and my brother was using it at a Lil’ Cricket and the clerk apparently had never seen one and asked him “Is this monopoly money or somethin’?”

  35. NorthAlabama says:

    OK, this one hits home, it’s from my home town, and from my home town newspaper.

    That said, wouldn’t it have been nice if the bill had been checked BEFORE arresting and jailing an innocent citizen? Since when did convenience store clerks and officers on the scene become judge and jury? Did the customer have another way to pay while the validity of the bill was checked, by two different banks, BEFORE the arrest and jailing?

    I’m even more inclined to use my credit cards for every purchase, and pay it off every month. I’ll get chargeback protection, and avoid false arrest and imprisonment, too.

  36. RiverStyX says:

    Consumerist is known for stealing my sources and never giving credit, but the other month there was a topic on reddit about a man who attempted to use a $2 bill at taco bell and the idiot behind the counter thought it was fake. I was like “Of course he thought it was fake, that’s why he’s stuck working for taco bell..”

    If you’re in possession of a counterfeit bill, your best strategy is to burn it and deny it ever existed. There’s nothing to gain by taking it to a bank. You won’t get a real bill and instead you’ll have to fill out a bunch of forms that are passed along to the secret service. In other words: As usual, the honest get inconvenienced while the criminals just do as they please.

  37. AlanFromRochester says:

    even people with a cash-handling job are often clueless, and it aggravates me to no end.
    normally my old bills are no problem once I point out the date.
    The paper finish was changed in the mid-70’s; that’s probably the issue here.
    There was the big redesign starting with 1996-dated bills, but 1990/1993/1995 bills have a security thread and microprinting without outward design changes.

    $2s are another issue…

  38. texastrader58 says:

    I wanted to say that because I collect coins and bills. I did know that the older ones will not pass the test. But they are worth more that face value. Unless they are in very bad shape. I do feel that law inforcement should make that efffort to educate themselves. In this type of situation. And If anyoune has old bills do not give them to the banki. Take them to a collortor. You can let me know I may want to buy them from you.

  39. jnl says:

    I was cleaning out a drawer which I knew had a lot of junk. In the drawer were some 50 cent pieces which I knew would cause a problem if I used them in buying anything as I supposed most young people had never seen one before. I took the 50 cent pieces along with pennies, etc to Bank of America to cash them in for paper money.
    The bank clerk, obviously from another country, looked at the 50 cent pieces and asked me what they were! And I thought , OH BOY! I told her what they were and I guess she thought they weren’t real as she had to ask another teller if they were genuine. Don’t these people know our different coins- even though they usually aren’t used today- as they do work in a BANK? And no, the coins were worth only 50 cents or I would have gone to a coin shop instead.

  40. Panich52 says:

    Friend of mine almost had poluce called on him because the clerk thought his $2 bill was fake. And before taking very old bills to bank for exchange, look them up on numismatist (sp) site or take to coin dealer. Might be worth more than face value…

  41. magpiemegnut says:

    It says on the side of every counterfeit marker I’ve ever seen that they only work on bills made after a certain year (1959, I think). I’m kind of shocked that the clerk and/or cop didn’t realize this before the poor guy got hauled off to jail…