A Craigslist deal gone bad left Vince Alto with more than $4,000 in counterfeit cash and missing a family heirloom, but he stands to lose a lot more if he doesn’t get justice soon.

Once he learned his insurance wouldn’t cover a stem cell treatment in Arizona that could help his rapidly progressing Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Alto decided to start selling his valuable mementos to pay for the procedure.

Pawn shops and gold traders wouldn’t give him enough for his father’s gold nugget watch, so he listed it on Facebook for $4,000. He found himself bombarded with requests from scammers and even received a check from one in the mail for far more than what he was asking -- a scam he saw right through.

Finally, he found a cash buyer last week for another valuable he’d listed online, a gold chain. The man decided he wanted the watch too, and after a five minute trip to his car where a friend was waiting for him, Alto says he returned and counted out $4,230 in bills of $100, $50, $20, and $10.

Once the buyer left, Alto says he started to separate the cash, only to find two matching serial numbers.

“Right when I noticed, I could feel my whole body just go in shock. I just knew,” said Alto, adding that “all of it” was fake.

In a September Nixle alert, Anchorage Police warned the public about counterfeit money circulating, citing 87 fraud reports involving fake bills, just in the month of August.

The alert said, “The sophistication of the bills being passed in Anchorage is low; the fake money is easy to spot if a few moments are taken to examine it.”But Alto says the money passed in his home was so convincing, even the police officer who arrived to take the report questioned him.

“He said the same thing a couple times, ‘Are you sure?’ I put it up in front of him and flipped it over,” said Alto.

Alto admits, he considered buying something else with the cash and letting it be someone else’s problem, but his dad taught him to be honest, so he turned it over to APD.

KTVA called the number Alto had for the shady buyer, and a man answered the phone. The reporter identified herself as a news reporter, told the man the call was being recorded and asked if he would return the watch, but the man hung up.

“He's got the nerve enough to answer the phone. That makes me really mad,” said Alto, visibly upset.

As the KTVA news crew was preparing to leave Alto’s home, the man on the other end of the line called back. The KTVA reporter told him again, she was recording the call. The caller said he had bought the phone off Craigslist within the last two days to repair it, and it had a sim card inside that would soon expire. He said he knew nothing about a watch or counterfeit money.

The long tale of a phone still attached to its old number isn’t one Alto is buying. He just hopes APD can get his watch back -- before it’s too late.

"Legitimate money is 75% cotton and 25% linen which feels a whole lot different than regular paper which is primarily made of wood pulp. Aside from the paper, the fraudulent bills APD has seen have included money with a front but a white blank back, bills with a backside printed on both sides of the paper, and print that does not line up properly so that there is a white paper border visible around the edges (see attached photos).  Most of the forged money has been $10, $20 and $50 dollar bills.

Money is still the safest form of payment as opposed to personal checks or cashier checks. If you’re in the position of accepting cash, whether it be for a business or a personal transaction, take a few moments to really look at the money you’re accepting. Make sure it feels like money and not regular paper. Look at both the front and back of each bill to verify it looks right.  Hold the bill up to the light – you should see a hologram and color-shifting ink."

The secret service has an online guide called “Know Your Money” that gives written and illustrated examples of what to look for in legitimate bills.  That document is also attached to this release (click on the Know Your Money pdf file).

Forging dollar bills is a B felony -- the highest level there is in property crime cases.  Should you come into possession of fake bills, please contact the Anchorage Police Department at 786-8900 (press “0” to speak with an operator). An officer will respond to take a report and to collect the falsified cash as evidence.

A YouCaring page has been set up to help Alto with his medical expenses.

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