ransom or stolen money: "un-marked" bills

What exactly** are they referring to, when a robber or kidnapper asks for the money in “un-marked” or “un-traceable” bills? (You always hear it in the movies, but occasionally IRL as well.)

Aside from a dye bomb, or some sort UV/infrared tint which is invisible to naked eye, I can not conceive what oyher “markings” would be, or how they could be traced.

IMHO, my WAG has been that the place or authority the money comes from, has recorded all of the serial numbers. But what good would this really do? I doubt if I were Johnny Be Bad, who recently held up the city bank 100 miles away, that the 7-11 I stop at in the next town is going to have a “master list” of SN’#s and check to see if the money I am using to buy a pack of cigs, is stolen. I doubt 7-11 would have nightvision goggles either.

What is the straight dope on “marked” and “unmarked” bills? I could find nothing in the archive.

Sorry about the underlines. I messed up.

It is all about keeping a list of serial numbers. Ideally the serial numbers are consecutive but with modern computers and what not they may pile money with random serial numbers in a bag for the payoff and keep a master list somewhere.

They catch the criminals by watching for the cash to re-enter the banking system. Buy a Big Gulp at 7-11 and that $20 you used will be sent to a bank for deposit. Presumably the bank is able to scan the serial numbers. If not them then eventually the money gets sent back to the Federal Reserve which probably does it. As soon as one shows up agents can start tracing the money back to its origin. If they notice that the bills keep showing up in a particular 7-11 they simply set a stakeout and wait for you to show to get your daily Big Gulp.

I don’t know how effective all this is but it’s one more tool in the police arsenal to track the bad guys. It’s not too much trouble to list the serial numbers so why not do it? Maybe they’d get lucky.

This can’t be right, because it would require every single business and person who the cash passed through to write the serial numbers down, or record them electronically.

No it wouldn’t. The store has nothing to do with it. They happily accept your money and think nothing more of it. The next day they deposit the previous days take with their bank. That bank may scan the serial numbers of all the money they receive as the money gets counted by automated counting machines and then share that info with the Feds. If the bank does not collect that info then eventually some of the cash gets sent back to the Federal Reserve where they would almost certainly scan the serial numbers (remember, most banks only keep something like 15% of their total deposits in cash…the number is mandated by law whatever it is).

WAG: banks have NO equiptment that SCANS money for serial numbers.

Further WAG: Fed. Reserve Banks Have NO equiptment that scans money for serial numbers.

Staying up late and watching reruns of X-files will only damage your brain.

The Federal Reserve records the SN of every bill it receives before it goes back into circulation or get destroyed. This is a measure to detect counterfeit bills. If a “hot” serial number shows up, at least the Feds have the criminal narrowed down to twelve general areas. Also, some large non-federal reserve banks to scan their bills to asist the FR in tracking bills, so they can narrow it down further. Further, if the bank is cooperating with the FBI, it’s easy to determine what business deposited the marked bills.

The point is “marked” bills don’t point directly to the criminal, they just help the cops narrow down the places where he could be. There are a lot of other things that can lead to the capture of the bad guy.

I think a lot of you are kinda close. Kidnappers usually ask (on TV anyway) for unmarked and non-sequential bills. The non-sequential part helps them avoid the whole ‘list of bills’ approach to catching them. This way the banks and feds cant simply keep an eye out for bills AD23432485C through AD23532485C.
The “unmarked” part is actually simpler than you think. Bills can be marked by officers in many ways. Officer’s initials, a certain red stripe in the corner, a little star here or there, maybe a tiny stamp. UV if it is important enough. Marking bills is not only used in delivering money to kidnappers, it is used in buying drugs, or even sending in teenagers to buy alcohol. The cops always get their money back. Don’t ask me why the hell it matters in court if you are holding the actuall 20 dollars you used, but it does… what the hell, I know.
Anyway, banks and others can be told how the bills in the ransom were marked, and they can keep an eye out for such bills. It is easier to look for a certain “+” or “*” in the corner than a specific serial number.
So when the napper says he wants unmarked, non sequential bills, he will send them back if they are not new and free of any marks. Look at your older money right now. Chances are you have some kind of marks on them. I am not saying yours were made by the feds or even local cops, but people mark bills for other reasons as well.

I think you guys are missing the point. Banks do not scan or record serial numbers of incoming cash. By the time the money gets to the FRB, there is no way it can be traced back to any person or business. How much good would it do law enforcement to know that the guy they’re after was, at some point in the past, somewhere in the 12th Fed district? That area encompasses the western 1/3rd of the US, plus Alaska and Hawaii.

Point two - bank tellers are not told to look for marked bills. Most bills in circulation have various markings and stainsof one kind or another. This approach may have worked in a small town bank in the 1930’s, but today it’s too ludicrous to even consider.

The serial numbers are recorded (or the bills marked) on the hope that when the perpetrator is caught he would have some of the identifiable cash in his possession, nothing more. Dye packs serve the same purpose, except they have the added advantage of possibly marking the criminal, his car, etc.

Read tcburnett’s posts in this thread for the straight dope on marked bills.