Court clerk halts cash payments amid counterfeiting concerns

Published 5:28 pm Thursday, May 26, 2011

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – The Shelby County Court Clerk’s office will stop accepting cash payments July 1.

All payments, including traffic tickets, must be made by check or money order, Court Clerk Mary Harris announced this week, after $300 in counterfeit money passed through her office in the last several months.

“We hate that it’s going to be an inconvenience to people,” Harris said May 26.

The clerk’s office stepped up efforts to detect counterfeit money in January. However, Harris said, the popular marking pens, used by most merchants, didn’t work.

“What they’re doing that makes it difficult for us to catch it is taking the lower denomination bills and bleaching them and reprinting them under higher denominations,” Harris said. “When you mark it, it shows as being OK. When we sent it to the bank, they tell us it’s counterfeit.”

The Division of Risk Management previously preferred the clerk’s office not accept currency. Harris said she was reluctant to do so, mostly for the convenience of those paying simple traffic tickets.

“It’s difficult to do this,” she said. “When we’ve got Judge Jackson upstairs with 300 to 400 people on the docket, and those people come down to pay their traffic tickets, it’s tough to tell them they’ve got to get a check or money order and come back.”

Fearing the counterfeit money was being introduced through larger payments, Harris in January implemented extra security measures for cash payments of monthly and weekly restitutions.

Before accepting a $600 monthly payment, Harris offered as an example, a clerk’s office employee would make a copy of the currency and write the case number associated with the payment on the copy.

Still, Harris admitted, there’s no way to know if the money was introduced intentionally, or by a person who unknowingly paid with the fake bills.

“The thing is, they could have went to the grocery store and picked up one of these $20 bills and then come here to pay a traffic ticket without knowing.”

Harris spoke with local law enforcement agencies and said counterfeit money is “beginning to be a problem.”