Local Girl Scout troop ripped off by counterfeiters

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - 19:55
  • Three fake $100 exchanged for Girl Scout cookies and real cash are seen before being turned in to Anchorage Police after the Eagle River Girl Scout Troop 690 Leader Melissa Jones stopped at a bank to have the bills tested last Friday, March 9. The quality of the fakes, which were also used to rip off an Anchorage troop, impressed both the bank workers and police. (Photo courtesy Melissa Jones)

Members of Girl Scout Troop 690 from Eagle River had $300 stolen from them in a counterfeiting operation while selling cookies at Fred Meyer in Anchorage on March 9.

A second Anchorage troop of Girl Scouts was ripped off as well for another $100 in the same counterfeit scam earlier in the day.

The two groups of Girl Scouts split shifts at the Fred Meyer on DeBarr and Muldoon from noon until 8 p.m., and both were initially fooled.

“I was really happy to be selling that many cookies. The first time he came up when we were there, he bought a lot of cookies,” said Coral Mercer, 13.

She’s been selling cookies for eight years, and nothing suspicious had happened before.

The earlier shift of Girl Scouts from an unidentified Anchorage troop also reported that they were concerned about the bills but in the busy shuffle of the day’s sales, Coral and her partner, Ellie Jones, had already sold more cookies to the suspects before the troop caught on.

Two male suspects are involved, Coral said. The men had traded going to purchase the cookies at different times of the day, sticking them with three separate counterfeit $100 bills.

The 15 Girl Scouts in the Eagle River Troop, ages 12 and 13, were scattered around Eagle River stores and Anchorage’s Fred Meyer on Saturday selling cookies. They are intently focused on a fundraiser to raise money toward a June trip to Costa Rica that costs $1,500 per scout. The trip is to complete a sea turtle conservation project.

Troop Leader Melissa Jones, whose daughter Ellie Jones was at the Fred Meyer with scout Coral Mercer, noticed something odd about the bills.

“We kept getting $100 bills, which we do get occasionally. On a whim I stopped by the bank to say could you look at these? The teller at the bank agreed the bills looked good, but she said ‘let’s check.’”

The bills didn’t pass the bank’s test.

“The three counterfeit $100 bills looked so real that both the bank and the police were impressed with their quality,” Jones said.

Anchorage Police came to interview the girls about the scammers’ appearance, and took the bills with them.

Being ripped off isn’t something that the girls will easily forget, Jones said. The suspects came away with change from each $100 bill that is legal tender, and they got the three or four boxes of cookies each time. That means the scouts were ripped off both in cash and the proceeds from the cookies that support their fundraising efforts, Jones said.

The scout troop only earns 50 cents to 65 cents per box. Another $3.50 goes to the Alaska Girl Scout Council. Then $1 per box goes to the baker. It takes selling a lot of boxes of cookies to get a major fundraising effort like the impending trip to Costa Rica accomplished, Jones said.

But they are Girl Scouts, so this will be turned into a positive lesson.

“We are now teaching the girls how to identify counterfeit bills as we continue our cookie operations,” Jones said.

First, spread the news that they would not be accepting any more $50 or $100 bills. Then they documented the evidence of the counterfeit bills by taking photos of all three. Then they handed the bills over to the police.

Coral Mercer was able to give a good description to the police of one of the men, who had “candy-apple red hair.”

“We are taking a positive out of this. I am 50 years old and I’ve never had a counterfeit bill passed to me before,” Jones said. “But what they have now learned at age 12-13 is that you have to check. It’s a lesson they are not going to forget. We will be taking a trip to a bank and get a lesson on detection.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on out there. For one thing, the counterfeiters are taking $5 bills that don’t pass the (false) test because they are made from real bills changed into a $100 bill.”

In the meantime, it’s not known whether the Girl Scout Troop 690 will be reimbursed through any crime restitution program.

“A police report was filed, so we’ll see,” Jones said.

Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected].

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