By Melissa Locker
February 19, 2016
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suitcase of money
Credit: Getty Images

On Friday, United States Customs and Border Protection stopped nearly $5 million of counterfeit cash from being smuggled into the United States.

Customs officials at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport searched a married Vietnamese couple arriving on a flight from South Korea, after they made conflicting statements about whether or not they were carrying over $10,000 in cash. (Larger amounts must be declared to customs officials.) As reported by Detroit News, during their search, customs officials found 93 bundles of counterfeit $100 bills from the U.S. and 32 bundles of counterfeit Vietnamese currency stashed in the couple’s bags.

There’s a twist, though: The money was so-called “hell money” or “spirit money”, paper currency printed on joss paper and specifically intended to be burnt as an offering to the dead to help ease their way in the afterlife. The couple claimed they were going to use the spirit money at a funeral of a relative. Spirit money is for sale in stores across the country and is available on Amazon.

While it’s unlikely that any savvy shopkeeper, let alone bank would have mistaken the currency for real money, US Customs and Border Protection doesn’t care about intent. Under US law it’s illegal to import fake money (even if it’s not an officially recognized currency or legal tender) regardless of what you intend to do with it.

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