Sunday, January 22, 2006


“It’s Crackers…to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.” – MAD Magazine, late 1950’s
The obscure quotation above is supposed to mean “It’s crazy to pay off a cop in phony money.” It’s one of the bizarre catchphrases with which the MAD Magazine of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s was sprinkled...along with gems like “Potrzebie,” and “Osgood z’Beard.”

Most of us don’t ever see phony money, except for the occasional bad check. Fake currency is rare, but there’s an ever-evolving Arms Race between the counterfeiters and the people who print our greenbacks. As copier technology has become more sophisticated, the security devices incorporated in our currency have had to keep pace.

Today, at the local supermarket, I paid for my purchase, as is my custom, with my debit card. Since I needed to replenish my Portable Liquid Assets – folding money, you know – I asked for $20 cash back.

[Pernicious option, the old Cash Back. So easy it is, to tap into the Font o’ Funds right at the source, as it were. It’s a path that is fraught with danger…but I digress.]

The cashier handed me my Double Sawbuck...but immediately, I sensed that something wasn’t right.

The bill felt strange, as though the paper had a fuzzier, softer texture than the crisp bills we usually see. I held it close, the better for to eyeball it. It was one of those newfangled peachy-greeny twenties, the ones with Andy Jack’s smiling phiz unencased in a frame. But the colors were off...muted, they seemed.

Closer examination showed that the engraving was slightly blurry, lines broken. It didn’t look at all like the razor-sharp steel engraving on genuine currency. The color-shifting ink used to print certain devices on the face of the bill was absent. The watermark – a feature used for many years on many foreign currencies but only recently incorporated into ours – was missing, as was the thin plastic security thread.

I told the cashier, “Please give me a different $20 bill. This one is counterfeit...and you might want to let your management know.”

I got my (real) cash, and the bag boy took the bill over to the service desk. The manager looked at it and quickly agreed that it was bogus. I suggested that he report the matter to the police.

I feel bad for the cashier. The bill somehow had landed in her drawer, most likely by her accepting it from a previous customer. If somebody was going to be out $20, it was likely to be her. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that counterfeiting is a victimless crime.

I’ll cop to being a bit of a Coinage and Currency Nerd, but this is one time I’m happy to have been paying attention to my money. How about you? Could someone pass you Bogus Bux?

No comments: