TPD: Fake $100 bills passed counterfeit pen test

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Meeting at a public place wasn't enough to stop a Lutz man from getting cheated out of his iPhone and hundreds of dollars on Saturday. He arranged to sell the phone using a popular app, but the man on the other end of the deal paid in counterfeit money.

Marc Cesario posted his new iPhone 6 Plus for sale on the Offer Up app, and within minutes a man named "Joseph" was sending him messages, saying he wanted to buy the smartphone.

"He wanted to buy it now, right then and there. I was on my way to a Rays game, so I told him I could probably meet right off I-275," said Cesario.

They agreed to exchange the phone for $400 at a Burger King near the intersection of East Busch Boulevard and North Florida Avenue.

"It was a safe place, and it was still daylight out," said Cesario.

He said Joseph walked out of the restaurant and told him he just got paid from working a lawn care job before handing Cesario four crisp $100 bills

"The color was quite off." Cesario recalled.

He acted on his suspicions, asking Joseph to go inside to the cash register with him to have a cashier mark the bills with a counterfeit detector pen.

"The money pen distinguished that it was real," said Cesario.

It wasn't until after exchanging the phone and Joseph had left, that Cesario noticed the serial number was the same on every bill. So he contacted Tampa police.

Authorities are now warning people who buy and sell items online and on mobile apps to pay attention to the small details when dealing with large bills.

"It can be the subtlety of how it feels, the grade of paper and all that, those are all tell-tale signs," said Steve Hegarty, spokesperson for the Tampa Police Department.

Equally as important as using caution with who you meet, is deciding on a location.

"If you go to one of our offices, our lobby or one of our district offices, and you do the transaction there, I would like to think that it's pretty unlikely somebody is going to try to rip you off in front of police officers," said Hegarty.

Cesario posted pictures of his iPhone and the counterfeit money on social media to spread the word to other sellers, hoping they won't fall victim to the same scam. He said the recent incident is the second time he has been duped by trading via apps. In the past, he bought a used cell phone from someone, only to find out later it was stolen.

"I already got scammed once before. This kind of put me up to the edge where not to use it anymore," he said.

Anyone with information on the scam should contact Tampa police.