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A Different Kind of Scam
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2020-04-15

            Montgomery County and Bucks County officials have issued warnings to the public to be aware that scams related to the coronavirus pandemic, unfortunately, continue to spread.

The Farmer's National Bank in Pennsburg was the first local

financial institution to receive the bogus $10 bills.  A

Spinnerstown merchant unknowingly accepted the forgery

and included it in his weekly deposit.

            There are reports of residents receiving phone calls claiming to be from Medicare and Medicaid. The scam artists making these calls claim they need to verify the consumer's information to qualify them for coronavirus testing.

            These scam artists are asking for a name, date of birth, Social Security number, and even a credit card number to pay for the test.  It is nothing more than a phishing attempt to steal consumer's personal and financial information and can lead to identity theft and fraudulent use of a consumer's credit card.

            Officials remind folks to never provide any personal information over the phone, especially when requested on a call you did not initiate to a trusted phone number.

            Scammers are also using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam

East Greenville's Perkiomen National Bank president Warren

Fluck had a local electronics manufacture deliver an ultra-

violet light to help identify and document the flaws in the

counterfeit bills.  Local merchants were told what to look

for to help them identify the bogus bills.

coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes.

            During the Great Depression, a different kind of scam visited our region.

            It all started with a "cross-eyed" picture of the first Treasurer of the United States.  It was a badly botched photo of Alexander Hamilton on a counterfeit $10 bill.

            The fake sawbucks began showing up in the area in April of 1934.  A Spinnerstown merchant, making his weekly deposit at the Farmer's National bank in Pennsburg, was surprised to learn of the phony currency among his hard-earned money. 

            Within the next month, two more of the counterfeit $10 bills showed up at the Pennsburg bank.  Each time one of the bad bills was found it was promptly sent to the Federal banking authorities for investigation.

            With the latest finding, bankers began using ultra-violet lamps to find the irregulars.  Upon exposing the bills to the light, officials noticed many irregularities and imperfections that could be identified quickly with the naked eye.  Local merchants were notified to be on the lookout for the pretend currency.

            One week later, East Greenville Garage owner Harvey Heck, refused to accept a $10 bill from a stranger for the purchase of gasoline at his business.  The bill had all the trademarks of a fake.  Heck pretended to have trouble making change while he examined the bill.  He returned to the stranger and said that he couldn't make change.  A passenger in the car paid the bill with a smaller note.  As the car drove away, Heck wrote down the license number.  He then called the State Highway Patrol barracks in Collegeville and provided them with that number and a detailed description of the perpetrator.  

            By June 15, 1934, Federal Secret Service agents showed up in the area to conduct an investigation.  Apparently the counterfeiters weren't deterred by the East Greenville incident.  Frank Adam, proprietor of the general store in Fruitville, was the latest victim of the bogus bill passing.

            By the end of June, the counterfeit bills began showing up at the Perkiomen National Bank in East Greenville.  This time, however, the quality of the fake $10 bills had improved making them harder to detect.

            The amount of money the local business people were losing was starting to rise.

            More bills showed up at the Perkiomen National Bank in July.  Investigators were making progress in their investigation.  They reported that the manufacturers were selling counterfeit money to distributors, for $30 per $100.

            In August Warren Fluck, President of the Perkiomen National Bank, reported another merchant had been scammed out of ten bucks.  By now, any stranger trying to get change for a $10 bill was out of luck.  Stories sprang up about the local businesses' unwillingness to change a sawbuck unless it was for somebody they knew and trusted.

            The breakthrough in the investigation came when a stranger tried to purchase a carton of cigarettes at the East Greenville meat market of Harry Buch.  Edwin, the 16-year-old son of the owner, was working the counter at the time.  A man purchased the carton of cigarettes.  Edwin accepted the $10 bill and gave the stranger his cigarettes and change.  The young clerk examined the bill and noted the discrepancies that identified it as phony currency. 

            Edwin immediately ran after the stranger and told him he could not accept the money.  The stranger returned to the store and returned the cigarettes and the change.

            The young Buch's mother had just returned to the store and immediately wrote down the license number of the visitor.  The license number matched the one given to the Federal agents by Heck.  Police immediately forwarded a mug shot of the suspect to East Greenville for the Buch family to review.  In addition Mrs. William Schwenk, who was also in the store at the time of the incident, was shown the photo.  All agreed that this was the culprit.

            Finally, after a summer of bogus bills passing through the area, and with the help of alert citizens in the Upper Perkiomen Valley region, 33-year-old Charles Ficara of Philadelphia was arrested.  Ficara was allegedly passing one of his bogus sawbucks at a Philadelphia store.  His arrest came while federal officials were searching for him in connection with the East Greenville and Pennsburg incidents.

            Secret Service officers reported that suspicion was directed towards Ficara after they obtained a detailed description and the license number of his car from Heck. 

            The final piece of evidence against Ficara came with the positive ID made by the folks in the East Greenville meat market.


 

 

 

 

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