Can You Get in Trouble Using Prop Money?

What Is Prop Money?

You're probably more familiar with prop money than you realize. If you've seen movies or TV shows that have scenes with loads of cash, those are most often prop money.

Prop money is commonly used in movies and TV shows instead of real currency. It is carefully designed to resemble real money, but with obvious differences and distinctions. When filmed at a distance, the prop money looks so convincing that viewers don't even notice that it's not real.

But when you look up close, it's a different story. Reputable makers of prop money, such as Evermont Bills, carefully design prop money to be easily distinguishable from the real thing. Some of these differences include:

  • Differing text on the bill such as "Not Legal Tender" or "For Motion Picture Use Only"
  • Differences in all the various graphical components, which will be immediately apparent if the prop bill is compared to a real one.
  • Absence of any holograms or other security features of real currency
  • Lastly, the feel of prop money is completely different because it's printed on regular paper, and not the special "rag paper" used by the US Treasury.

Despite the obvious differences between prop money and real dollars, some people might be tempted to use the fake bills to actually try and buy something. If you've had this thought, you need to stop right there and reconsider. Using prop money in place of real cash is highly illegal, carries severe penalties, and you will very likely get caught.

Do People Using Prop Money Illegally Get Caught?

All the time! There have been many cases of people being arrested and charged for trying to use prop money. 

In September of 2020, a Cortlandville man named Artis L. Young was arrested for trying to use prop money as genuine currency in three local convenience stores. Two of the stores saw through his scheme and alerted the police.

The bills were clearly marked as 'Motion Picture Money,' but Young managed to successfully buy an energy drink with one of his fake $20 bills, receiving real cash in change. The police quickly caught up with him, and he was charged with three felony counts of first-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, along with another count of petty larceny and two additional counts of attempted petty larceny.

A Glen Falls teen named Tyrese M. Kamburelis was similarly arrested and charged with the use of fake money after trying to pass off a motion picture $100 bill at the Cumberland Farms store to pay for some goods.

Like other criminals, it seems that Kamburelis was hoping to use a large fake bill to pay for a small item in the store, receiving real money in return and making a profit out of the deal. But store clerks and workers are trained to quickly and efficiently carry out simple tests and verification procedures to identify fake notes. They see and hold so many bills every day, so it was easy for them to catch the teen out and call the cops.

Will I Get Caught Using Prop Money?

Young and Kamburelis are just two of many people who have been caught attempting to use fake money in stores and retail locations. Even those who have tried more elaborate schemes to avoid detection have found themselves in trouble.

In Virginia in 2017, a 19-year-old man and two juveniles were arrested after trying to use fake money to pay for goods they bought online from local sellers. It seemed that the trio hoped to get away with handing over some fake notes to sellers who might not have professional experience in terms of telling fake and real money apart.

However, several local citizens spotted the words 'Motion Picture Use Only' on the offending notes and reported them to the police. Then, the offenders were tracked and charged. The charges included using false bank notes and obtaining money through false pretenses.

Then in 2018, a 22-year-old man named Kristopher Sterling Rosser Stallings attempted something similar. He arranged to buy a video game console from an online seller, planning to meet the seller in a Walmart parking lot, where he handed over a trio of prop $100 bills.

The seller later noticed that the notes were, once more, marked with the label "For Motion Picture Use Only" and reported Stallings to the police. He was promptly arrested at his home and charged with multiple offenses.

There are endless examples of similar cases, such as 20-year-old Malik Gardner of South Bend, Indiana, who was also arrested for trying to use prop money to buy things from online sellers. This goes to show that regardless how sophisticated the scheme may be, it will still be found out and the offender tracked down.

The Risks Far Outweigh the Rewards

The simple fact is that prop money is designed to only look realistic on camera. Using these movie props to try to buy anything is just sheer foolishness, given the high chances of getting caught and the harsh penalties. 

Prop money is not like illegal counterfeit currency, which is designed with great care to look and feel like authentic cash. Instead, it has very clear and obvious distinctions, which are obvious to almost anyone who handles money.

And as the above examples show, those who attempt to use prop money to deceive others are consistently caught and prosecuted. Using prop money can violate both federal and state laws, so the precise punishment one receives will depend on the extent of their crime and the location in which it was attempted.

On a federal level, the use of prop money as real money can lead to a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, as well as a fine. On a state level, penalties may include high fines and lengthy prison sentences. In Minnesota, for instance, someone trying to use high-denomination fake currency can receive a 15 to 20 year sentence.

Final Word

Prop money is not illegal, but the way you use it might be. We encourage everyone who buys prop money to destroy it once they've accomplished whatever they wish to do with it. Don't just leave it lying around where others might take it, and definitely don't put it in your wallet. You may forget about it and find yourself accidentally committing a crime when you unknowingly try to spend it.

As the numerous examples show, using prop money in an illegal way just isn't a good idea. The risks far outweigh the potential rewards, and people get caught all the time.

This article is not intended as any kind of legal advice, more like a cautionary tale. As a premier maker of prop money, our message is simply that everyone who buys prop money should follow the law. Evermont Bills has no interest in selling prop money to those who would use it illegally, and we reserve the right to refuse service and report suspicious activity as we become aware of it.

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