What happened to Anthony Darst was a sorry mix of robbery and fraud. Someone ran off with his iPad, and left him holding an envelope of phony cash.

Darst contacted me because he sees lessons here: Beware of movie money — and websites where strangers offer to buy your electronics

Movie money looks an awful lot like genuine money. It’s the same color and size, and all the numbers and pictures are in the right places. Look more closely, though, and Ben Franklin and Andrew Jackson have raised eyebrows, bigger noses and appear to be puckering.

The real giveaway is the language on the front and back, where “The United States of America” is supposed to be.

It says, “For motion picture use only.”

Companies sell these bills by the stack for use in films and TV shows. On PropMovieMoney.com, you can pick up 10 grand in phony $100 bills for 30 (real) bucks.

It’s a kind of counterfeit currency that’s actually legal. Unless you try to spend it. Which lots of people do.

Until a few months ago, Darst did not know any of this. Darst, aka Anthony D., is a 30-year-old hip-hop artist who lives in Burnsville and also runs a website recruiting drivers for Uber. In June, he was looking to sell an iPad Mini. Darst chose an app called OfferUp that he thought looked more secure than Craigslist.

A user called “Amanda” offered to buy it. On June 22, they arranged a meeting on Charles Avenue in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood. Darst drove there, with his children in the car. Instead of finding Amanda, Darst saw a big guy standing in the yard in front of the house.

The guy said Amanda was inside, and after a few questions about the iPad, took out a bank envelope and counted out five $100 bills and one $20 bill. Darst took the envelope, and in that moment, the guy took the iPad out of his hand, turned on his heels, jumped over a fence and yelled, “Welcome to the city.”

Darst would have run after him, but for the children in the car. “I was mad, but I was in a pinch,” he said.

He took a closer look at the money and knew for sure he had been scammed. He flagged down a St. Paul squad, which took a report.

By that evening, the phone number for Amanda was no longer working. Officer Jason Urbanski wrote in his report. “There is limited suspect information and solvability factors. This case will be pended at this time.”

Darst knew that the case probably wasn’t going anywhere when the officer handed him back the phony money.

The photo on OfferUp that Darst thought was Amanda is actually from the Instagram account of Jodie Marsh, the British model, bodybuilder and raunchy celebrity.

I inquired with OfferUp how someone was able to set up a fake profile.

Anne Baker, a spokeswoman for the Bellevue, Wash., company, said OfferUp has options for validating user profiles, but they’re not required, “which is consistent with other internet or mobile-based marketplaces.” Baker said OfferUp “does not tolerate criminal activity” and has “offered assistance to the St. Paul Police Department as it investigates this matter.”

But OfferUp rejected Darst’s request for a refund because the company “does not take ownership of the items bought and sold.”

The Secret Service isn’t seeing any national uptick in movie money cases, a spokeswoman said Friday. In the past week, though, people have used movie money to buy used cars in Georgia, pay a bill at a car dealership in Sioux Falls, S.D., and exchange fake cash for real money at a Michaels store in South Carolina, according to news reports.

“I keep coming across more and more people who have been burned by it,” Darst said. He wanted to tell his story as a caution to consumers and businesses, especially as cash moves at the State Fair.

“That would be a perfect place to go pawn this fake money off,” he said. Given the lines for cheese curds or Sweet Martha’s cookies, “they’re not going to take a second look.”

 

Contact James Eli Shiffer at james.shiffer@startribune.com or 612-673-4116.