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OKINAWA CITY — Prefectural police are investigating the passing of counterfeit $20 bills to off-base businesses and taxi cabs.

According to Okinawa police, the bills, which first surfaced in September, appear to be crudely made photocopies on cheap paper. Investigators with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are assisting in the investigation.

More than 30 fake $20 bills have been uncovered so far, most of them accepted by taxi drivers taking them as fares for passengers in Okinawa City, Chatan and Uruma City. Many of the fares were to U.S. military bases.

An accountant of a taxi company in Okinawa City told Stars and Stripes she found two phony $20 bills last month from the money collected from drivers.

“I thought they looked funny because the color was brighter and the paper’s surface was not as smooth,” she said. Her hunch proved right when she brought them to a bank to check their authenticity.

The manager of a home improvement store in Uruma said a fake $20 bill was found in October.

“We learned that it was fake only after we took it to a bank,” said the store manager Ken Agarie. He was unsure exactly when the bill was passed because the store waits to accumulate more than $600 in U.S. currency before exchanging it for yen at a bank.

“We believe it was used between Sept. 23 and Oct. 5,” he said. “It’s difficult for our cashiers to tell if a dollar bill is fake or not because they handle an average of 2,600 customers a day.

A spokesman for a retailing chain said three $20 bills with same serial number were found recently in their sales proceeds. Two of the bills were from stores in central Okinawa, and one was from a store in the south.

All of the bills recovered so far have the same serial number, GK 19983307C, say prefectural police.

One cab driver told Stars and Stripes he was given a bad $20 bill on Gate Two Street near Kadena Air Base by a non-Japanese man with a high-and-tight military haircut who appeared to be about 24 years old.

“I took him to Yoshihara in Chatan,” the driver said. The passenger paid the 620-yen fare with a $20 bill.

“Soon after he left the cab, I became suspicious, because the surface of the bill was rough,” the driver said. “I got out of the taxi and looked for the man, but couldn’t find him.”

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