Members of a Sacramento Girl Scout troop received counterfeit money this weekend while selling their cookies in front of a midtown grocery store.
The girls of Troop 1690 were doing good business with their Thin Mints and Do-si-dos on Saturday at the Safeway on 19th and S streets when a man bought two boxes with a $100 bill that turned out to be a fake.
He received $90 in change, along with his cookies.
"I was just stunned, really, that this happened to us," said the troop's cookie manager, Colleen Story.
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Story said she had gone inside Safeway to trade in some twenty dollar bills for fives when the man approached the table. One of the scouts, 10-year-old Mia Stoll, said she thought something was wrong with the bill when she saw it. But the scouts checked it with a pen that is meant to detect counterfeit bills and it passed, so they accepted it.
A spokesman for the United States Secret Service, which handles investigations of counterfeit money, said counterfeiters have found ways to beat the detection pens.
"Sometimes counterfeiters will bleach small denominations so then they have the genuine paper, so they’ll copy a larger note onto that note," the spokesman said. "It's common. "
Detective Eddie Maccaulay of the Sacramento Police Department said they hadn't seen an uptick locally in counterfeit money, but that checking for the "ribbon" running through large denominations was the easiest way to spot fakes.
Girl Scout spokeswoman Stephanie Riley said troops are hit a few times a year with counterfeiters. They teach the scouts and parent chaperones not to accept bills larger than a $20, but said "you can't expect a Girl Scout troop or a parent to be experts."
Riley said the regional council always replaces the lost funds for the affected troop, so they don't lose out during the fundraiser.
"We do make it right for the troop because it's terrible, but we also try to prevent it," she said.
Riley said local Girl Scouts, who are part of the Heart of Central California region that includes 18 counties from Yuba to Merced, are in their first weekend of the annual cookie drive.
Last year, the 13,000 girls who took part in the fundraiser sold 2.4 million boxes of cookies in the region, at $5 a box, said Riley. That's $12.5 million in gross sales.
The scouts get to keep 20 percent of sales for their troop, Riley said. The regional council uses its share of proceeds to pay for camps, activities and other programs - including a new science, technology, engineering and math center at its headquarters.
Story said the troop didn't report the incident to police, but is using it as a learning experience for the girls. Story said she would like her scouts, like Stoll, to be able to speak out even in intimidating situations.
"It’s a good lesson for the girls," said Story. "We need our girls to get a voice. (Stoll) had the intuition inside her but she didn’t know what to say."
Story said she and other troop leaders plan on teaching the girls how to speak out in tough moments when it might seem discourteous or disrespectful to challenge an adult, but they feel like things are amiss.
"If they have a feeling inside that something is not right, they need to alert us," Story said. "If you can’t say it because the guy is right there looking at you and you feel nervous, do something."
Riley said she appreciated the troop turning the theft into learning experience.
"That is a very positive way to look at it and they could even train other troops in that sense," she said. "It's good for girls or anyone to know if you have an instinct that something is not right, it probably is not. Listen to your intuition."
Girl Scouts will be selling cookies through March 18. Locations for sales can be found at GirlScoutcookies.org, but Riley asks local purchasers to leave their $100s at home.
"Please bring $20s," she said.