LENOX — Area police departments are urging the public, especially business owners, to be on the lookout for a ring of thieves who have been passing counterfeit $100 bills at businesses in Lenox and Stockbridge.
The series of incidents began early Monday evening as at least one female suspect worked her way down Main Street in Stockbridge, making small purchases for under $10 at multiple businesses, using counterfeit $100 bills, according to Stockbridge Police Chief Robert Eaton.
About 90 minutes later, fake $100 bills were used by one or several suspects at Spirited and Family Footwear on Pittsfield Road, said Lenox Officer William Colvin, who is investigating the incidents at those businesses. In both cases, he noted, the purchases were for "a small quantity of merchandise."
"It's still an open investigation," Colvin said on Wednesday, adding that it's believed that several people were involved in the series of thefts. He indicated that the suspects apparently are not from the area, so it may be difficult to obtain identifications from the public.
"I suspect a small group of people entered the county and made a pass through several towns, going through as many stores as they could to see how many of these counterfeit bills they could pass, and then moving on to try to avoid detection."
Video surveillance photos have been posted on the Facebook pages of the Lenox and Stockbridge police departments, seeking help from the public in identifying the suspects caught on camera.
"Facebook has been a big help in the past on a lot of investigations," Colvin said.
Colvin's advice to business owners and employees: "If somebody comes in using a large bill to make a small purchase, that should be suspect. If I was a merchant, I wouldn't hesitate to ask for a smaller bill."
He also urged merchants to scrutinize large bills for texture, an indistinct hologram and smudged color.
Colvin cautioned that "counterfeit pens" used by some businesses to detect suspicious currency are not foolproof because of new methods used in the manufacture of fake bills.
"If merchants sense something suspect, just don't do the transaction," Colvin said. "They may upset some customers but they could save themselves close to $100."
He noted that activity by counterfeiters is not necessarily connected to holiday periods, and that fake $20 currency turn up more often than $100 bills.
According to state law, a suspect convicted of passing fake bills could face a jail term of up to one year, or imprisonment in state prison for up to five years, as well as a $1,000 fine.
Anyone with information about suspects or new cases is urged to contact Colvin or the on-duty officer at Lenox Police at 413-637-2346 or Stockbridge Police at 413-298-4179, where officer Kirk Nichols is handling the investigation.