ATLANTA - Law enforcement officials are warning residents to be on the lookout for counterfeit money, a multi-million dollar problem in metro Atlanta, especially during the holidays.
Small business owner Ira Katz has learned about counterfeit money the hard way.
"There were times we've gotten burned. That's money lost. You eat it," said Katz, of Little Five Points Pharmacy.
The Secret Service office in Atlanta showed Channel 2 Action News large boxes full of counterfeit money confiscated in the area in just one month. The office took $2.9 million in fake money off the streets in 2011.
Some of that came from Quinn Gibson, who pleaded guilty in September to smuggling $14,000 worth of fake money into the area. The Secret Service traced the money to Peru.
Law enforcement officials said Peru is now known as the world's counterfeiting capital. About 17 percent of all counterfeit U.S. money comes from Peru. A federal bust over the summer netted $2 million in fake bills.
Secret Service agents told Channel 2's Justin Farmer this time of year is typically when agents generally see an increase in counterfeiting. They said the holiday shopping season is the time everyone should check the money in their purses and wallets.
"You don't have to be an expert to do it," said Chuck Brand of the Secret Service.
Brand showed Farmer the different kinds of counterfeit money. A raised note is where someone tapes together a bill to make it look like another denomination. Toner notes are made with a printer. Off-set notes are made on a printing press, and a bleached note is a genuine bill that a counterfeiter bleached to make it look like a higher denomination.
Brand showed Farmer a bleached $100 bill that, when held up to the light, showed Abraham Lincoln in the right-hand corner, instead of Benjamin Franklin.
"So, what they did here is they used a genuine $5 reserve note and bleached it to try and make it look like a $100," Brand said.
To check for a counterfeit, Brand said to look for security water marks, and the blue and red threads woven into every U.S. bill. He also said to feel the paper, and match the small security number and letter that every bill should have on the front and back.
Finally, Brand said people should hold their money and tilt it. The numbers on the corners of a genuine bill will turn from green to black under the light.
"Take the time, take a second, check the money," Brand said.
Katz keeps a cheat sheet of security features near the registers at his store so his employees don't forget to check. He said customers need to be educated too.
“You don't have to be a rocket scientist to spot a forged bill," Katz said. "Check everything. Don't make assumptions."