New 20s, New Bogus Bills

Only a month since the rollout of retooled $20 bills meant to thwart counterfeiters, knockoffs of the colorized currency are already starting to circulate, authorities say.

The latest case is that of a Missouri woman whom federal grand jurors accused Friday of passing four fakes of the new $20 bill on Oct. 16 - exactly a week after the revamped notes were introduced nationally.

Margretta Saffold's case brings to at least nine the number of people arrested nationwide - in Alabama, California, Tennessee, Utah and now Missouri - in cases involving counterfeits of the new bill, U.S. Secret Service spokeswoman Jean Mitchell said. Nearly 200 bogus versions of the new bill have already surfaced, she said.

Saffold, 33, is the first person to be indicted in connection with the revamped $20 bill, Mitchell said. She was charged with one felony count of passing counterfeit currency and faces up to 20 years behind bars and $250,000 in fines if convicted.

The Secret Service believes more arrests will follow in upcoming months, in part because counterfeiters may be hoping to have an easier time with harried cashiers during the holiday shopping season.

"We somewhat anticipated this," Mitchell said of arrests coming so soon after the introduction of the new bill.

In a world where commercially available digital equipment has made counterfeiting easier, cheaper and often harder to detect, "people are taking opportunities to challenge the system," Mitchell said.

Along with the traditional green and black colors, the new $20 notes also include faint touches of peach and blue in certain spots on the bills. Tiny number 20s are printed on the back of the notes in yellow.

Other features aimed making them harder to knock off include a faint blue eagle in the background on the front of the bill to the left of Andrew Jackson's image and a metallic green eagle and shield to the right of Old Hickory.

In the 2001 fiscal year, $47.5 million in counterfeit bills got into circulation in the United States, the Secret Service says. Of that amount, $18.4 million - or 39 percent - were phony computer-generated notes.

Just on Thursday, two more counterfeits of the new $20 bill surfaced at Arkansas banks. Days earlier in Massachusetts, phony versions turned up at a market, an eatery and a Radio Shack.

"If you don't take note, you could easily be duped," Mitchell said.