Counterfeit money circulates in downtown Iowa City

Beginning late 2022, reports of counterfeit money being used in downtown Iowa City businesses arose, leading some places to stop accepting larger bills.


Darren Chen

A sign telling customers that $50 bills won’t be accepted is seen at Bread Garden Market in Iowa City on March 4, 2023. The sign is a response to the recent spike in counterfeit bills in downtown Iowa City.

Hannah Lipski, News Reporter

Some Iowa City business owners are taking note of recent use of counterfeit bills in downtown Iowa City and are no longer accepting larger bills.  

Since late 2022, there have been reports of counterfeit $50 bills being used in downtown Iowa City. Iowa City Public Safety Information Officer Lee Hermiston wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that the Iowa City Police Department collected reports of seven instances of counterfeit money use in the last six months.

Lee wrote the reports may not capture every instance depending on how the calls to Iowa City police are logged. He recommends businesses in downtown Iowa City refrain from accepting bills larger than $20 to try and combat being tricked by counterfeit money. 

Since the word of counterfeit money in Iowa City started to spread, downtown businesses are responding with different preventive measures. 

Iowa City’s Bread Garden Market, located in the Pedestrian Mall, is no longer accepting $50 bills. 

Sarah King, floor manager at Bread Garden Market, said the business was informed by its bank, Green State Credit Union, about counterfeit $50 bills circulating in Iowa City. King said the bills were not showing up as counterfeit in the bank’s system when initially checked.

“They tested as real bills even though they weren’t real bills,” King said. 

King said Bread Garden Market’s protocol is to reject potential customers who are caught attempting to use counterfeit money. Otherwise, if a bill does get passed and is accepted by the business, they have to report it to the police who then confiscate it. 

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The business then loses out on however much money is taken from the police, she said.

Other businesses, such as Ragstock, use multiple machines and a marker to test bills larger than $20. Yotopia Frozen Yogurt, located in the Ped Mall, also uses these methods to test bills larger than $20. 

Yotopia Frozen Yogurt manager Andrew Reinert said under advice from its bank, the business tests any $50 and $100 bills that come into the store. 

This type of practice is beneficial for businesses in protecting themselves against counterfeit money. 

Wendy Ford, City of Iowa City economic development coordinator, said business owners should educate employees who are taking the cash to know what to look for and to do that screening themselves.

Additionally, Ford recommends businesses contact the Iowa City Police Department for training on how to spot counterfeit bills. 

“That kind of activity, unfortunately, has been going on as long as there’s been money in circulation,” Ford said.  

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