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Following the money

September 29, 2004 1:09 am

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Stafford residents Jenni and Gilles Deacur take part in the Web site WheresGeorge.com, tracking the progress of dollar bills as they are spent across the country. logeorge.jpg

By LAURA MOYER

When Gilles and Jenni Deacur say they want to know where their money goes, they mean it literally.

They don't concern themselves so much with what their cash buys as with where it physically travels once it leaves their hands.

The Deacurs, who live in North Stafford's Lake Arrowhead neighborhood, are competitive "Georgers." That's the nickname for avid participants in a currency-tracking hobby that has become so popular since its humble online beginnings in 1998 that it's practically a subculture.

Through the Web site Wheres George.com, the Deacurs and thousands of others nationwide keep tabs on where and how fast their folding money travels once it leaves their hands.

They stamp their Georges--and their Abes, Alexes, Ulys, Bens and the occasional $2 Tom--with instructions to find the Wheres George Web site. Anyone who gets hold of a stamped bill can then visit the site and log the bill's serial number, the place the bill was received, the circumstances of the transaction, and the condition of the money.

A $1 bill that recently circulated in downtown Fredericksburg, for example, was initially entered into the WheresGeorge database this summer in Richmond, by which time it was already pretty well-used. It took a couple of months for the bedraggled bill to get its first "hit" 50 miles away, from a newspaper reporter who happened to get the bill as change from a $5 at Hyperion coffee shop.

The bill is now back in circulation, waiting for its next curious recipient to enter it on the Web site.

The Deacurs--two of about a dozen top Georgers from the Fredericksburg area--use custom-made stamps for their hobby. They mark bills with the words "currency tracking study" and "See where I've been Watch where I go www.WheresGeorge.com."

Competitive Georgeing has been a defining hobby of their marriage.

The couple, both 32, met a few years ago after corresponding through an online Christian forum. Gilles, a Canadian whose name is pronounced "Zhill," moved to Stafford County in August 2001, and he and Jenni were married soon afterward.

Gilles adopted Jenni's daughter, Myracle, now 6. The Deacurs have a second daughter, Zsasha, 1.

For a time, Myracle thought people had to stamp something on a bill in order to spend it, her parents said. Now she knows it's just something Mom and Dad do for fun.

The bills Myracle receives for an allowance are always marked, Jenni said, and sometimes Myracle helps with the stamping.

But it's the grownups in the family who care the most.

"It's always been a contest for us," Jenni Deacur said, as she sat at her Macintosh computer in the living room. "It's kind of addicting. It's very addicting."

Gilles, who uses a PC stationed on the other side of the sofa, punched a few keys to display his user profile, which chronicles his Georgeing glory.

His most successful George has had eight "hits" since he launched it in Stafford Dec. 21, 2001. It was logged in Alexandria a week later; in Greenbelt, Md., Jan. 7, 2002; in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30; in D.C. again Oct. 4; in Bel Air, Md., Oct. 10; in Virginia Beach Nov. 3 and again Nov. 22; and in Woodbridge Dec. 26, 2002.

At that point, the $1 bill virtually vanished, possibly taken out of circulation as it wore out or got torn.

The Deacurs are proud, too, of the bills that have traveled farthest--to Aruba and Peru for Gilles, and to England for Jenni.

Gilles, a locksmith, and Jenni, who works for a publishing company, hate to part with any bill they haven't already stamped and entered into the database.

"I only let about three or four a year get through my hands" unlogged, Gilles said.

And Jenni said she's been known to write a check or use a debit card rather than spend a bill she hasn't had a chance to enter.

Still, they say, Georgeing isn't a huge time drain--just a few minutes a day, maybe an hour total each week. That leaves plenty of time to take care of their kids, two cats, a basset hound, a ball python and a hermit crab.

The Deacurs said they're careful about how they stamp, making sure not to render their bills unspendable. And they never stamp a bill's oval portrait, which they said would simply be rude.

Legally, the hobby falls into a gray area. Though the U.S. Code prohibits defacing currency, defacement means that the bill is rendered unusable and must be taken out of circulation by the Federal Reserve, a Secret Service spokeswoman said.

More to the point is part of the code that prohibits advertising on bills, 18 USC 475.

"The Secret Service would consider it a violation of 475," spokeswoman Lorie Lewis said. "But whether or not the U.S. Attorney's office would prosecute would be up to the U.S. Attorney's office."

The Web site's creator, Hank Eskin of Boston, said by phone that he did have a cordial exchange with the Secret Service in 2000, two years after he began the site. He said he agreed to stop online sales of rubber stamps with the WheresGeorge contact information, and since then he's heard nothing from the Secret Service, which operates under the Department of Treasury.

Those who visit the site don't seem too offended by the practice, Eskin said. WheresGeorge has had 2.6 million registered users since 1998; daily traffic now is about 20,000 users, registered or unregistered. "That's a stadium full of people," Eskin noted.

The site isn't a profit-making venture, Eskin said, but it is a source of professional pride. He makes his living as a Web design consultant.

The Deacurs said they rarely get grief when they spend their stamped bills, but occasionally someone will comment.

When that happens, Jenni said, she just explains, "Oh, that's something my husband does."

And when Gilles is asked, he just shrugs and says, "My wife does that."

To reach LAURA MOYER: 540/374-5417 lmoyer@freelancestar.com





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