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Counterfeit Money at our Markets

Posted: December 22, 2014

Penn State Extension in Lehigh County helped farmers’ markets and local businesses maintain their livelihood through a class on how to identify counterfeit money.

As residents of Lehigh and Northampton counties, we benefit from farm influences in our urban and suburban environment. One of the benefits is the arrival of local produce at farm stands and farmers' markets, with the consequent increase in consumers to surrounding businesses.

This past summer though, while we enjoyed the bounties at these markets, they became targets of some unsavory consumers who paid for their purchases using counterfeit money. As summer ended, counterfeit bills surfaced again at a Berks County fast food business, raising concern once more.

Farm retailers have many reasons to sell their products at farmers' markets. Some of these may include helping the public understand where their food comes from and who produces it. Another might be to capture more of the "food dollar" to keep their farms viable.

The last thing a farm retailer is expecting is for someone at the market to hand out a counterfeit bill.

Recently Brian Moyer, a Penn State Extension agricultural marketing program assistant in Lehigh County, received an email from a market manager informing him that the market was hit for about $600 in counterfeit $100 dollar bills. Brian proceeded to get the word out so other markets in the region would be aware.

The responses surprised him. He heard from managers and vendors throughout the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast that this has happened at their markets as well.

Markets are very busy places and merchants do their best to take care of customers quickly. The challenge of providing speedy service and verifying the legitimacy of customers' money is daunting.

Farmers' markets are also supposed to build community, and traditionally there has been a level of trust that is broken when something like this occurs. How can we as a community use that trust to strengthen our markets and prevent these types of incidents from occurring?

Erin Fredrick, Penn State Extension horticulture and natural resources educator, recommended Master Gardener Linc Coffin, to assist Brian in educating local farmers' market merchants. Linc is a retired banker who trained bank employees on how to identify counterfeit money.

On Nov. 12, 2014, Penn State Extension in Lehigh County held a workshop that was attended by farmers, market managers and small business owners to learn how to identify counterfeit money while going about their day-to-day business and what to do should they come across counterfeit bills.

Linc instructed the group on the unique properties of United States currency. With practice, he stressed, one can learn how to identify counterfeits simply by feel. He showed the participants what items or images are present or embedded in each denomination of currency to help identify its authenticity.

Each participant received materials that described the latest features of U.S. currency.

Given that the holiday season can mean so much to the success of our local businesses, it was important to offer this workshop to provide merchants with skills to assist them during this holiday season and throughout the year.