How to have a safe holiday Residents encouraged to watch for counterfeit bills that were spotted in area; other hazards common during season

A Weehawken woman went to the Western Union located in Pathmark Plaza on Park Avenue this week to receive cash that was wired to her from a client.

“The clerk asked me if I wanted cash or a check,” said the woman, who is an attorney but requested anonymity. “I didn’t have any money on me at all, so I took the cash. I left the Western Union and went to the Pathmark liquor store. When I purchased something and handed the cashier two 20 dollar bills, he handed one back to me and said it was counterfeit. I’ve been around for a while and I’ve handled money. I couldn’t tell that it was counterfeit.”

But it was.

Another Weehawken man said that he also presented a fake $20 bill, one that he’s pretty certain he received while shopping at one of the stores at the shopping plaza.

“I didn’t have any twenties when I checked my wallet before I left my house,” said Sam Carbone. “I only shopped there. I then pulled out a $20 and found out that it was fake. I got it somewhere in there. I’m sure of it.” Two other anonymous callers left messages at the Weehawken Reporter last week, saying that they somehow received a counterfeit $20 during their course of shopping.

In the case of the attorney, she filed a police report. The Weehawken police arrived at the scene, confiscated the phony money and contacted the U.S. Treasury Department for further investigation.

In Carbone’s case, he didn’t say anything.

“I was afraid that they might think I was the one who made the money or something,” Carbone said. “It was only twenty bucks. I ate the loss.”

However, it should be a cause for concern, with four apparent incidents of counterfeit currency within the same town.

Weehawken Public Safety Director Jeff Welz agreed.

“We only had the one report of a counterfeit bill,” Welz said. “We turned it over to the Treasury. If there are others, we don’t know about them. According to the police report, it seems to be an isolated incident. But with today’s technology being so advanced, it is very easy to pass counterfeit bills. That’s why the bills have changed recently.”

Added Welz, “This is the time of year where people historically try to pass counterfeit money. With the holidays and holiday shopping, more and more cash is exchanging hands. Historically, the counterfeiters prey at this time of year. So it pays to be on the lookout for it. It should be an alert to the business owners more than John Q. Public, because people wouldn’t be able to tell what’s real and what’s fake. But the businesses should.”

On the lookout

In fact, the holiday season should sound the alarm for a lot of things to be on the lookout for – not just the distribution of counterfeit money, although that’s good enough reason.

The holiday season usually brings about an increase in crime and an increase in fires, so Welz and the co-director of the Weehawken Crime Prevention Patrol, Retired Capt. Herb Schwanse, have some tips that will make the holiday shopping and the holiday season much safer for everyone.

According to Schwanse, there are certain things you can do to prevent crime from happening during the season. “The first key is to put your outdoor Christmas lighting and indoor house lighting on a timer, just in case you leave the house,” Schwanse said. “This way, it gives the appearance that you’re home, because if not, thieves know that there is always extra cash and gifts inside a home during the holidays. They’re always out looking for an easy mark, what we call crimes of opportunity.”

Schwanse said that women should be overly protective of their pocketbooks.

“Try avoiding the low-hanging carrying kind,” Schwanse said. “Use the ones with the shoulder strap and make sure the strap is under your coat. Never leave your bag alone in a shopping cart or hanging off the back of a chair.”

Schwanse also offered tips on using automated teller machines.

“Make sure you use one that is indoors, not outdoors,” Schwanse said. “And one where there are a lot of people around. And try not to carry large amounts of cash with you.”

Schwanse also warned against leaving packages in the back seat of your car in broad sight, because it almost acts as an invitation for a break-in.

“The best advice I can give is to be alert and think defensively,” said Schwanse, who heads the crime prevention department with fellow retired captain Sal Jodice.

“Between them, they have over 60 years of police experience,” Welz said. “They want to help and if anyone needs help, they should call. Experience is the best teacher.”

The Crime Prevention Office is located on Park Avenue.

Christmas trees can start fires

In terms of fire prevention during the holidays, Welz, who is also the co-director of the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, has some safety tips as well.

“The two areas that show the most concern are candles and Christmas trees,” Welz said. “Everyone wants to have a live tree, but the live tree brings dangers. Fires significantly increase because of live trees.”

Added Welz, “If you have a live tree, there are three main components. You have to have a stand that holds water and a tree that provides a fresh cut. The tree should be placed in the stand within hours. Do not place the tree near any heat source, like a radiator or a stove. In terms of Christmas lights on the tree, test them first to see that they light, then make sure that they are protected by the UL tag. Some lights are being made in foreign countries and they don’t meet the code. And they can spark and set the tree on fire instantly.”

Welz also said that all trees should be discarded the minute that the tree starts to shed its needles. It means that the tree is drying up and that causes a fire hazard.

Welz also warned about the use of candles.

“Never place lit candles on a live tree,” Welz said. “Some people actually do. More and more fires are caused by candles. People also leave candles lit and leave the house. And candles shouldn’t be lit close to combustibles. I fully support religious and cultural beliefs, but they sometimes present tremendous fire danger. You have to be careful.”


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group