WINSLOW — Fake money has been circulating in Winslow, authorities say.

The most recent incident occurred earlier this week, when a woman attempted to pay for fuel Monday at J&S Oil on Bay Street using a counterfeit $100 bill, Detective Scott Christiansen of the Winslow Police Department said Wednesday. Prior to that, Christiansen said there have been reports of counterfeit money being used in town — and elsewhere in the state — for several months, as far back as the end of 2018, and perhaps earlier.

The back of a fake bill that a customer used Monday at J&S Oil in Winslow. Courtesy of Winslow Police Department

Christiansen explained that the bill from Monday had bright pink Chinese characters on the back of it that translate to “prop.” While he noted that he “couldn’t say with certainty” that the woman who attempted to use the fake bill knew that it was fake, he said it was likely that she did.

“I’ve seen the bill myself, and it’s fairly obvious that it is not real,” Christiansen said. Aside from featuring Chinese characters on the back, he noted that the money “has a very different feel and texture than regular cash.”

Police said the presence of these pink Chinese symbols are an indication that a bill is fake. A customer attempted to use this bill Monday at J&S Oil in Winslow. Courtesy of Winslow Police Department

Heather Gilbert, 43, of Waterville, has been charged with Class B aggravated forgery and theft in connection with the case. Class B offenses are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Gilbert has a criminal history that includes a 2016 charge from Waterville police for misusing identification, according to Christiansen.

Gilbert allegedly told the manager of J&S Oil that she was not aware that the money was counterfeit.

“I spoke with (Gilbert) today and (she) said (she) happened to find it stuck in a bush,” recounted the manager, Ken B., who would not provide his last name. “Apparently (she) didn’t look at it. She didn’t realize.”

Ken B. told the Morning Sentinel that Gilbert had handed an attendant at the full-service gas pump the fake bill and requested $20 of gas.

“My attendant didn’t think it looked right but took it anyway, and then when he brought it in I went, ‘It’s very much fake,'” he said. “It’s printed on the wrong type of paper. At a very quick glance it looks right, but it’s missing all of the things that a copy machine can’t duplicate.”

The manager said he recognized the bill on Monday because he had encountered the exact same kind last summer, though he did not accept any of them back then. The fake bills that Winslow police have seen in the last year are likely being purchased online rather than being produced by local individuals.

“There are a couple of different websites, including Amazon and eBay, that sell prop money or training money used at international banks,” Christiansen said. “You can buy bundles of them online. They’re not hard to obtain.”

There are a few indicators that shop owners and cashiers can use to determine whether or not money is fake. Other than the unusual texture of false bills, Christiansen said that non-English writing can be a give-away.

“One of the types (of fake bills) has large markings on the front with fluorescent pink Chinese characters which translate to, ‘Do not use for currency. For training only,'” he said. “Then the ones that are pictured in this case, the Chinese characters are smaller, on the back and translate to ‘prop.'”

Christiansen advised anyone who suspects that counterfeit currency is being used to call the police. If the customer leaves in a hurry, he said, try to obtain a license plate number or other form of identification. He added it would also be wise for local businesses to use money markers, which change color if a bill is not authentic, on suspicious cash.

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