The Hot Potato Principle: Why This Grandma’s Bank Stuck Her With Counterfeit Cash

Counterfeit currency operates on the “hot potato” principle. Like the children’s game, the last person caught with the object loses. Once you accept counterfeit cash–even if it’s from a financial institution–it’s yours. This made for a very disappointing birthday gift for a 14-year-old from his grandmother.

This whole mess was shared in the Albany Times Union this week. The grandmother withdrew $300 in $100 bills from her Citizens Bank branch for her grandson. She says that she sealed the cash in the envelope with his card before even leaving the bank branch. When he received this generous gift, he took it to his own credit union, SEFCU, to deposit it. That’s when he got the terrible news: his grandma was passing around funny money. Two of the three bills were fake, and the credit union confiscated them and called the Secret Service.

While this was probably all very exciting for the teen (Dude! Secret Service agents!) it was a bad experience for his grandmother. Not because the local agents treated her badly, but because her bank wouldn’t take responsibility for giving her fake cash. She’s been with Citizens Bank for 50 years, and she expected to be treated better than a random person who had cashed a check and received fake bills. Doesn’t a decades-long relationship count for something?

The bank, for its part, told columnist Chris Churchill in a statement that it has its own procedures to screen money for counterfeits before handing it out to customers. “We are not able to reimburse customers for currency that is suspected of being counterfeit without being able to inspect the bill in question ourselves,” a spokesperson explained. That makes sense. Don’t they have the Secret Service’s phone number handy, though?

Chris Churchill: Bank passes the buck on counterfeit bills [Times Union]