Dog ate your C-note? Uncle Sam might be able to help

Little-known federal program can replace mutilated paper bills

August 10, 2010|By Eileen Ambrose, The Baltimore Sun

The dog really did eat it.

Christine Dorr of Brooklyn Park unhappily discovered a corner piece of a $100 bill on the floor near her border collie's bed earlier this year. A bank envelope containing three bills — two $100 notes and one $50 — had fallen on the floor, and 12-year-old Sayde's guilt-ridden looks told the story.

"The dog likes to eat paper," says Dorr, a researcher with a commercial real estate information company.

All that remained were three pieces of the $100 bills. The $50 was gone, although Dorr for days checked the "deposits" in the yard just in case.

Many people would have written off the $250 as a loss. But Dorr took the remnants to her bank, which advised her to try the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing that produces our paper currency.

Within the bureau is the little-known Mutilated Currency Division, where examiners piece together shredded, charred and soggy dollars. And if they can verify the money is authentic and determine the value, the Treasury will send the owner a check. Last year, the division processed more than 22,000 claims and redeemed about $46 million.

Dorr's story isn't unusual, says Lerleen Jones, who has been an examiner in the division for more than six years. She recalls a case in which a dog swallowed $900 and the owner waited for it to come out the other end to mail the remains to the division.

Animals are a common cause of mutilated currency, along with fire, water, explosives, petrifaction, chemicals and deterioration from being buried.

Examiners have worked on cash destroyed during the 9/11 attacks and are still receiving claims of waterlogged notes from Hurricane Katrina.

Sometimes it's not disasters that destroy money but rather the owners themselves. For example, people try to dry out wet bills in the microwave and end up burning their money, Jones says. And some people squirreled away money underground for fear that bank computer systems wouldn't work at the dawn of 2000; those buried remains have been found spoiled since Y2K came and passed without incident.

Generally, the bureau requires that you have more than half of the original bill so there's no chance that you'll be reimbursed twice, says Tiyonna White, a Mutilated Currency Division manager. If you have less, examiners will need to verify that the rest of the bill is truly destroyed.

The bureau only redeems destroyed U.S. paper money, but other agencies reimburse you for ruined coins. Change that's worn thin can be turned in to the Federal Reserve banks for full value. The U.S. Mint redeems mutilated or fused coins — a one-pound minimum — for the value of the metal. (Bills that are merely worn out, defaced or dirty can be exchanged at your local bank.)

White says it takes six weeks to 20 months for mutilated-currency examiners to process a case.

As months went by and Dorr didn't receive any reimbursement, she figured the pieces she sent in might have been too small for examiners to verify. Eventually, she forgot about it.

Then recently, a check for $200 arrived from the U.S. Treasury. The only indication it was replacing the chewed currency was a notation on the check: "Mut. Curr Refund." That's mut for "mutilated," not mutt.

Dorr wasn't taking any chances with this paper. She kept the check away from Sayde and deposited it in the bank.

Got mutilated money?

Mail the remains of paper money along with a letter on how it was destroyed to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing at MCD/OFM, BEPA, Room 344A, P.O. Box 37048, Washington, D.C. 20013. Send it via registered mail, return receipt requested. Make sure it's packaged in a way to prevent further deterioration.

Coins that have been damaged can be sent to the Superintendent, U.S. Mint, P.O. Box 400, Philadelphia, Pa. 19105.

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