Fake money intended for training purposes in China has made its way to cash registers in the Mountain Empire.
On Wednesday, the Russell County Sheriff’s Office reported on Facebook that it had multiple reports of counterfeit bills that have distinct Chinese lettering. The large pink or red Chinese letters or symbols can be easily spotted by the naked eye.
“These bills are not real currency,” the Sheriff’s Office said.
Anyone receiving such a bill should immediately call authorities.
“Our agency has had multiple cases with this type of counterfeit money,” said Russell County Detective Craig McGlothlin. “Some cases have suspects, and charges are pending.”
Authorities in Russell County have discovered 20 bills that have been passed in the jurisdiction, McGlothlin said.
In Bristol, Virginia, one bill was recovered on Saturday, according to Sgt. Steve Crawford. Another case has resulted in charges being filed against a local man, but he has not yet been served, Crawford added.
This is the second time in a couple of years that counterfeit money with Chinese symbols or letters has turned up in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.
In all, the Bristol Virginia Police Department has encountered about a dozen similar bills in the city, Crawford said.
He believes there will likely be more bills in the coming months.
The Bristol Tennessee Police Department said it hasn’t had any recent cases.
“I know we have seen some of those and some of the movie money passed here in the not-too-distant past,” said Capt. Charlie Thomas.
Fake money used in movie production has also been found on the street in the region.
Kingsport police officers have also seen the Chinese-related counterfeit money.
“We had a surge of it come through a year or two ago, and it still pops up occasionally, but nothing recent,” said Public Information Officer Tom Patton.
Because of the way the phony money is marked, it is not illegal to possess.
“It is illegal if you attempt to pass it off as legal tender,” Patton said.
Henry Antkiewicz, a professor of Chinese studies at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, said Wednesday that the money likely was printed in China.
“I have no idea how these bills could have got to Russell County, but it’s got to be a brazen scam,” Antkiewicz said.
With help from Chinese experts, Antkiewicz translated the symbols for the Bristol Herald Courier.
Three characters on top of the bills say “practice token” or “skill/martial arts.” The bills also feature two characters below that say “ticket sample.” One other character on the bottom also appears to say “prohibited.”
A “skill practice ticket” is a special term used for Chinese bank clerks, according to information provided by Antkiewicz. The “tickets” are used for practicing counting money, and they are supposed to stay within banks in China.
Chinese bank tellers often encounter U.S. currency as business and leisure travelers visit the country.
“I have easily changed money in China, and banks there have U.S. currency for these purposes,” Antkiewicz said.
He added that he wasn’t aware of fake money being used for practice or training.
Crawford said he suspects the counterfeit money was purchased online. Someone in Southwest Virginia appears to have purchased the money and recently distributed it, he added.
On Wednesday, a website was selling five $100 bills for $1.97. It described the bills as “prop cash money for movies or training.” A photograph of the cash appears to feature Chinese symbols, similar to the money discovered in Southwest Virginia.
Last year, an Alaska man was convicted of passing similar money at the Anchorage International Airport.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonas Walker, a 28-year-old man went to the airport and made a reservation for a one-way trip to San Francisco. In attempting to pay for the ticket, he handed seven counterfeit $100 bills to an airline employee, a Justice Department news release states.
The employee immediately noticed that the bills were counterfeit due to their texture and appearance, including Chinese text in bright pink and red on both sides, the release states.
The U.S. Secret Service typically investigates cases of counterfeit money, including the Alaska case.