By
NBC News correspondent
updated 10/30/2003 10:30:26 AM ET 2003-10-30T15:30:26

The restyled, color-rich $20 bill, in circulation for just three weeks, has been touted by the government as the “most secure currency in U.S. history.” Well, that’s not true in Brockton, Mass., where a bunch of computer-generated phonies have turned up.

THERE ARE LEADS but no arrests yet. Brockton Detective Domenic Persampierei says that’s because the bills are so new, no one saw the counterfeits coming. “I couldn’t believe there was a brand-new counterfeit 20 that came out because it’s… they’re supposed to be foolproof.”

That was the perception at one neighborhood legend, George’s restaurant, where the walls pay tribute to native boxing great Rocky Marciano. But it’s the restaurant that’s “taking it on the chin.” George’s owner, Charles Tartaglia, says the first new $20 bill that came in there was only a color copy.

Tartaglia accepts part of the blame for letting the bills get through. “When they match a batch and they throw the phonies in with the good ones,” explains Tartaglia, “its almost impossible to see which are good and which are bad, and when you’re busy and you’re doing a lot of transactions, you’re not going to pick them up till either you give them to the bank or you look at them but, the new ones are hard to find.”

He adds, “There’s not been enough education either on our part or the government’s part to tell the people or the employee what to look for.”

Security features printed in the new bill’s design make it easier to check for fakes. When held to the light, there’s a watermark and a security thread in the paper. The federal government is spending $33 million to get the word out, targeting consumers and small cash-based businesses.

But the Bureau of Engraving & Printing’s Tom Ferguson says that wouldn’t matter if people don’t check for fakes. “They [counterfeit bills] don’t have the security features, there’s not even an attempt to do them. They’re really a very poor imitation of a note, and yet someone has exchanged goods or services for that.”

Rick French tends bar and says sometimes speedy transactions make it tough to check for counterfeit money. “It’s just they come so fast,” French says, “$20’s keno. You’re doing hundreds of dollars in keno — you really can’t sit there with each one. So it’s an easy thing to probably get by on a bartender.”

Tartaglia understands the burden on waiters and waitresses trying to make a living. “Sometimes you’ll give the customers a check, and the waitress will leave it on the table,” Tartaglia says, “Customer will take the money out of their pocket, put it on top of the check, put it in a fold and they leave. The waitress will come back and pick up the money, and it could be in there.”

The government says with $44 million in counterfeit cash passed last year, the burden is on the consumer, even busy waitresses, to look carefully to see if you can really count on the new cash.

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