After 34 years of frying and selling her still-warm mini doughnuts, Middletown’s Janet Hollett has never had someone pass a counterfeit bill until a few weeks ago.
That’s when the grandmother of seven was counting her money at her Cowtown Farmer’s Market stall in Pilesgrove, New Jersey, and realized that she had been struck by a Scrooge.
One of the $5 bills looked a little off. And after inspection, she realized it was a fake.
But it wasn’t some high-tech replication of U.S. currency that can be tracked down on the dark web. Instead, it was prop money that anyone can buy.
Instead of “The United States of America” printed next to a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln on the bill, it reads, “For Motion Picture Use Only.” Even though it looks real at a glance, there are also a couple of other mentions of it being movie money on the bill.
The lookalike greenbacks also don’t use holographic ink like authentic currency.
Even so, it looks pretty close to the real thing. And the funny money can be purchased by anyone, anywhere.
For example, a package of 140 bills ranging from $1 to $100 bills, which would be worth $3,760 if the money were authentic, is sold for $13.99 on Amazon.
When a friend of Hollett found the bogus bucks for sale on Amazon, the doughnut-maker couldn’t believe it’s not illegal.
The sale of prop money is legal. Passing it for goods in the real world is not.
Hollett didn’t bother the police since the bill was so small and New Jersey State Police said they are not investigating.
But the 79-year-old great-grandmother of two, is still striking back against the fudged funds.
She made photocopies of the movie money bill along with a warning and passed it along to fellow retailers at Cowtown to raise awareness. She said it turned out that one other merchant was struck by dummy dollars as well, mistakenly accepting a $20 prop bill.
Hollett also reached out to the media, including Delaware Online/The News Journal, to help spread the word at a time when many independent retailers count on the holiday rush of sales.
With the Christmas shopping season at its peak, merchants are always looking out for fake bills, using counterfeit money detector pens. But many, like Hollett, don’t usually check smaller bills with pens and, frankly, don’t inspect them as closely as they do $20, $50 or $100 bills.
“It never dawned on us to catch fives,” Hollett said.
The illegal use of prop money is not new and happens nationwide. In fact, reports of the illegal use of motion picture money can be found everywhere from South Dakota and Pennsylvania to North Dakota and Illinois in recent months.
In New Mexico, police recently notified the community about the use of false funds like “motion picture use only” prop money in the community.
Authorities noted that prop bills are usually slightly smaller than real currency. Also, print on movie prop money usually reads:
- “For motion picture use only” along the top, front face of the bill.
- The word “copy” is normally printed on both sides of the bill.
- “This note is not legal tender” or “for motion picture use only” is normally printed on at least one side of the bill.
- Often times the president’s name is omitted or changed.
- Serial numbers are often the same on all movie prop money.
Passing prop money or any illegal currency could be classified as a felony offense or a federal crime depending on its use.
Ever since taking the fake $5, Hollett has been on the lookout for more of the bad bills, but has not come across any in Cowtown or her other doughnut stand in a Baltimore flea market.
Even so, she’s still shaking her head at the thought that authentic-looking prop money can be sold and end up on the streets.
“I just think it’s disgraceful,” said Hollett, who works alongside her daughter and son at her shops. “If you work for MGM or some other movie studio, you should have a license to buy this fake money, right?”
Whoever passed her the bogus $5 may get coal in their stocking this year, but Hollett knows it’s not all bad for the unknown scammer this Christmas.
“Well, they did get some free doughnuts,” she said with a chuckle.
Have a story idea? Contact Ryan Cormier of The News Journal at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 324-2863. Follow him on Facebook (@ryancormierdelawareonline) and Twitter (@ryancormier).