Paper Money

Customs confiscates hell money as counterfeits

U.S. government officials confiscated $4.65 million in “hell money” being brought into the country on the grounds that it is counterfeit. “Hell money” is burned in a ceremonial offering to the dead in some Asian cultures.

Image courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

It is common knowledge among international travelers that currency in excess of $10,000 must be declared to United States Customs when entering the country. It is also fairly well known that inspectors are well trained in detecting and taking action when what they are being told does not seem right. Such was the fate befalling a Vietnamese couple when they landed in Detroit on a flight from Seoul, South Korea, on Feb. 12 and made conflicting statements to authorities about how much cash they were carrying.

Upon inspection, according to Customs press release, “A secondary search of their luggage resulted in the discovery of 93 bundles containing $4.65 million of counterfeit U.S. $100 bills and 32 bundles of counterfeit Vietnamese Dong of undetermined foreign exchange value.” The couple, however, had no plans to either spend or pass any of it — they just wanted to burn it. 

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As collectors would quickly surmise, it was all “hell money,” notes printed on what is called “joss paper” that is specifically meant to be burnt, most often as an a offering to the deceased in what is a common ritual in Asian cultures.

The port director in Detroit, Devin Chamberlain, said, “Attempting to import any amount of counterfeit currency, regardless of the intended purpose, can have serious implications for arriving travelers.” He added, “Quality law enforcement work and solid attention to detail resulted in this seizure, and I am proud of the officers involved.”

Agents from Homeland Security and the Secret Service took custody of the obviously fake currency and the couple was allowed to continue on their way.

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