A counterfeit $100 bill exchanged at a Main Street gift shop Sunday has the downtown business community on the lookout for more bogus Benjamins.

As store owners anticipate an influx of shoppers this weekend during the annual Holiday Happenings event, members of the Andover Business Center Association have armed themselves with counterfeit-bill-detecting pens. They've also contacted the police department for information on how to best handle a situation involving a customer passing fake currency.

"All they can do is use common sense," said Andover Police Sgt. Don Pattullo. "Refuse to take it if they feel it's phony and then call the cops."

The counterfeit $100 bill, which was reported Nov. 25, the day of the Firefighters' Santa Parade at Strawberry Tree on Main Street, is the first such instance reported in Andover since at least Oct. 1, according to Pattullo.

Typically, police receive around a half dozen reports of counterfeit money each year, he said.

"Whoever is making phony bills, those things end up out there," Pattullo said. "Somewhere along the line, those things pass."

Although Pattullo said the two females who exchanged the fake $100 bill could have been unaware it was counterfeit, Strawberry Tree manager Laura Pagley said she believed a high school-age employee at the store was specifically targeted by the pair.

The two females waited around inside the store until the young employee was alone behind the counter, Pagley said. They purchased various gift items worth $100.50. They also declined to take a box or have the items gift wrapped before leaving the shop quickly after the bill was exchanged.

"It was a very busy day and I had two people on," said Pagley. "To me, if I was to do something like that, I would go to a place that's really busy. They thought it was [a] prime opportunity."

Workers at Strawberry Tree noticed the bill was counterfeit later that night while cashing out the register.

"I can't imagine our customers being like that," said Pagley. "The color was different, it was more purpley, darker. It looked like fake money as soon as you held it up to another $100 bill."

The news of the Strawberry Tree incident spread among downtown business owners earlier this week, and had some managers questioning the validity of $100 bills they received that Sunday.

No other reports of counterfeit money have been filed with the police department.

Andover Police Lt. James Hashem said that without any suspects, the recent counterfeit incident will be relayed to the secret service, which is responsible for all bills coming out of the U.S. treasury, he said.

"These people travel over a wide area, jurisdiction, passing those things," Hashem said. "Generally these bills themselves don't feel right ... It is easy to overlook."

In response to the incident, Enterprise Bank Vice President Nancy Hargreaves-Pierce ordered 24 counterfeit-detecting pens, which were distributed this week to downtown businesses for $5.

The pens, when written on $50 and $100 bills, can indicate the validity of the currency. If the ink shows up black, then the bill is counterfeit, Hargreaves-Pierce said.

"Anything we can do to help them out," said Hargreaves-Pierce. "The safest, fastest thing to do is get a counterfeit pen."

Andover Business Center Association President Betsy Powers, owner of Culinary Concepts on Park Street, said she initially contacted police so that businesses would be prepared for Holiday Happenings, which is planned for this Friday night and Saturday morning.

"We're going to be inundated with people downtown," said Powers. "I wanted to have a plan in place. I think we should all be on the same page as to what we should do."

Powers also sent out e-mails Monday night to business owners to increase awareness of the counterfeit incident.

"At the click of a mouse, we can get all of Main Street notified that this is going on," she said. "They're not going to dare because they're going to see that we're ready and we're prepared. Prevention is everything."

Carla Byrne, owner Bella Beads on Main Street, said she planned to buy two of the pens.

"Of course, as a retailer I am concerned," she said. "I'm not going to let it ruin any holidays for me."

Though Pagley said Strawberry Tree employees already had counterfeit-detecting pens available to them, not all employees were instructed to use them when given a suspicious bill.

"We've definitely corrected that issue now," said Pagley. "I have my staff on full alert and it will not happen again in my store."



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