COLORADO SPRINGS — We know local businesses are working hard to plan and rebound from the impact of Coronavirus here in Colorado. News5 wants to help with that planning by providing an important warning. News5 Investigates has learned about a growing counterfeit cash problem impacting Colorado Springs businesses. Investigators want businesses to be prepared to stop the fake cash because it could cost them money they can't afford to lose.
“We've had people coming in two, three, four times a week just to make that we can keep our doors open and we're very very thankful for our customers,” said Kristian Rizuto of Rizuto's Ice Cream Shop.
Navigating the challenges of the Coronavirus Pandemic, family run Rizuto's Ice Cream Shop continues the same mission its had the last 15 years, operating on a tight budget to keep prices affordable for everyone.
"We're not in this to get rich quick and our prices reflect that. We really try to keep our prices reasonable so that families from every demographic and every social class can come in and give something to their children," said Rizuto.
But recently the ice cream shop did have to change its business practices after making the mistake of accepting counterfeit cash.
“Oh, it's horrible," said Rizuto. "We took, last year, we had I think it's over $200 in counterfeits within 2 or 3 weeks."
Trying to look out for other businesses during this tough time, Rizuto's hopes others will learn from their experience because failing to identify counterfeit cash could put people out of business.
"The federal government and the banks don't refund us for counterfeit dollars," said Rizuto. "So if we get a counterfeit $50 and the person bought a $1 cone, we're out that fifty bucks. If we don't catch it and we take it to the bank that's $50 less in sales. $50 is pretty significant for a small business like ours.”
”It’s out of control. The economy is hurting which means the community is hurting," said Colorado Springs Police Detective Dan Mariano who leads CSPD's fight against counterfeit cash. “It's mostly hundred dollar bills, but it goes from hundreds all the way down to one dollar bills and they are reproducing it and then put it out into the economy. They will take a lower denomination of real money and they are able to wash off all the ink and then they print usually hundred dollar bill out over the top of it so it still has the feel of real money.”
Financial crime investigators are asking businesses to step up their training and procedures to stop the spread of counterfeit cash. Detective Mariano says the fake cash is so prevalent, the businesses who don't take this threat seriously will feel the impact.
“The employees they just are not trained, the camera systems are not operational if there are any. These are the places that they're going to get hit hard,” said Detective Mariano.
Patrol officers in Colorado Springs are responding to roughly 10 calls a week involving counterfeit cash and businesses are suffering the losses.
“With the amount of $100 bills that we have already collected it's easily tens of thousands of dollars. Easily,” said Detective Mariano. “I think the biggest driving force behind this is drugs. They need the money to buy the drugs.”
While this fake cash can pose a threat to the livelihood of many businesses trying to rebound during these uncertain economic times, the leaders of a neighborhood ice cream shop say you can stop the threat if you take the proper steps.
“Training our employees on how to identify a counterfeit bill and then letting them know that we have their backs if a customer gets angry. I think that young kids a lot of times are really worried about getting in trouble if a customer complains about them. So letting our employees know like when it comes especially to these counterfeit bills, you cannot give the counterfeit bill back and you need to call a manager or call the owner and let him know what's going on. If a customer gets violent or angry with you you have the rights to be safe so you have every right to call 911 if it's necessary,” said Rizuto.
Law enforcement leaders across southern Colorado are working with their area businesses to try to fight back against counterfeit cash.
For resources, advice, and training in detecting counterfeit cash visit https://www.uscurrency.gov/
For Colorado Springs businesses with questions or concerns about counterfeit cash and training you can contact the Colorado Springs Police Department's Financial Cimes Unit at (719) 444-7000