What Happens When a Business Gives You Change in Counterfeit Bills?

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Once the fake money is in your hands, it’s your responsibility—and if you try to use it, you could go to jail for 20 years. This is even the case when the business handing out the counterfeited cash is the U.S. Post Office, as one man in Los Angeles found out.

David Larazus’ LA Times column details the odd story of David Lipin, who cashed a postal money order and received eight $100 bills—all of which turned out to be fake. Lipin not only had to eat the loss, but also deal with the police, who said he could have gone to jail after trying to use one of the bills, which turned out to be $5 bills that were bleached and altered, at a gas station.

When counterfeiting occurs, unless there is definitive proof that someone else is involved in the fraud, the person holding the bag is the only one who gets screwed:

“Unfortunately, counterfeit money is like a hot potato,” said Wayne Williams, deputy special agent in charge of the Secret Service’s L.A. office. “Whoever ends up with it last is the victim.”

Well, yes, but Lipin got his bogus cash from the U.S. Postal Service, redeeming a Postal Service money order. Shouldn’t Uncle Sam bear some responsibility?

“Not really,” Williams replied. “The post office operates as a business. It takes in money from customers. Postal workers don’t really have special equipment or training to spot counterfeit bills. Unless they’re in on it, this isn’t their responsibility.”

So Lipin is hosed?

“He’s hosed.”

I guess this is not all that different than when the cashier sneaks in one of those Canadian pennies into the mound of change you’re handed after buying something. I hate later discovering I’ve been given one of those Canadian pennies, even if it is just a penny. I feel hosed when that happens. But in the situation in L.A., a gentleman is hosed on an entirely different scale.

So don’t be a hoser — or is it hosee? (I might have to re-watch Strange Brew to get a ruling here.) Anyway, the moral is: Before you’re the one on the wrong end of the hosing process, examine the greenbacks when you receive change at the post office, or anywhere else for that matter.