Prop Money Scam – Be on the lookout for fake $100 bills circulating in Decatur

DECATUR, Ala. - Decatur Police are warning against money they say is made for TV and movies, but is circulating around off-screen and around the city.

On Thursday, a viewer called the WHNT newsroom to tell us her family has been fooled. She claims someone agreed to buy an iPhone from a family member through a yard sale website. When they later examined the money the family thought they had earned in the exchange, they discovered it wasn't worth the $500 promised during the sale. It was fake money.

Emme Long, Decatur Police Public Information Liaison, confirmed this has happened twice this month in Decatur. Each time someone used prop money during a person-to-person sale, she said.

The department originally sent out a warning to sellers and merchants a few weeks ago.

"We knew that someone had ordered the money, but we had not seen it appear yet," she said. "It's novelty money so it's ok to have, but spending it is the problem. Now we have seen it happen through Facebook marketplaces or the Facebook yard sale pages and Craigslist."

Long said these bills can appear in any amount, but they are most frequently seen in the $100 form.

To avoid falling victim to this phony money, all you have to do is read it.  The bills warn that they are for "motion picture use only" four times on the front side, and once in big letters on the back.

But there are other differences from real cash, too.

Long said, "You'll notice the texture feels very odd. We're used to cotton money, whether we know it or not. This is stiff." She noted that you can feel a difference when attempting to fold the fake bills, and that they feel heavier than actual money.

There is also a sheen on the printed fake bills that you won't find on a real one.

"If you're looking at the front, you'll see a strip of ribbing that isn't raised. It's flat. It will be a different texture on an actual bill," she said.

Long said other versions of these "motion picture only" bills may have strange symbols, graphics, or other languages on them. She said you should look closely to confirm it looks the right way.

"Don't be afraid to Google what a real bill looks like!" she said.

The problem is this fake cash can easily be ordered online. We searched "prop money" on Amazon.com and were able to find $10,000 worth of prop money, for just $24.

There are several steps you can take before and during the sale to make sure you don't fall victim:

  • Meet in a well-lit and safe area. There are some designated safe areas for transactions, like area police departments, that you might choose.
  • Take your time when the transaction is taking place. "Make sure you take each individual bill and check to make sure. Because one might be stuck in with a few real ones," advised Long.
  • Eliminate distractions. Long said the more you're multi-tasking during a sale, the more you might miss something that seems "off."

If you have already fallen victim to this, Long said you should not be embarrassed. Instead, she recommends keeping a record of what happened during the transaction and calling police right away with those details.

"The sooner, the better," she noted.