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Cash-checking scheme targets local university

by Maggie Crane

KMOV.com

Posted on October 21, 2011 at 10:32 PM

(KMOV) -- A warning for anyone who has a checking account -- the circuit attorney's office put out a fraud alert about a new counterfeit check cashing ring operating out of St. Louis.

The latest victim is Harris-Stowe University, but if you've got a checkbook, you too could be at risk for someone swiping your account number and trying to swindle you out of cash.

It happened to Harris-Stowe 17 times, and the crook or crooks have yet to be caught. The fake checks in this case use real routing and account numbers and are typically cashed for less than $500 -- sometimes leaving the local businesses that cashed them on the hook for the money.

In a statement, Harris-Stowe says the school's internal auditing system caught the breach and stopped the checks from clearing its accounts.

Dan Taylor is a United States Postal Inspector who investigates millions of dollars worth of counterfeit check cashing schemes every year.

"Anybody who has a checking account could be a victim of a counterfeit check scam, but businesses are typically the targets because they generally have more money," Taylor says. "The more familiar or visible the target of the scheme, the more likely that the check might be cashed somewhere."

As technology and home-printer quality increases, it can be that much more difficult to spot fakes.

"Take a real close look at the check itself and any of the i.d.s that are presented," Taylor says. "Look for inconsistencies there. Another important thing since good counterfeits are not real hard to make -- look at the people themselves who are coming in to cash them. Watch their mannerisms. Are they overly talkative? Are they acting nervous? A lot of times that can be a good indicator to take a closer look."

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce also listed tips for business owners from Intuit.com on her website:

Require two forms of identification for all checks.

Closely examine the check. (weight, texture, and color of the check itself).

Look for early warning signs.

Observe the customer's behavior and ensure your staff knows what to look for.

Be wary of people who take a little too much time or care when signing their name.

The individual may also try to create a distraction while signing the check or while you're reviewing it for accuracy.

Look for misspelled or incorrect information such as street names, towns and zip codes.

Watch out for checks that do not match the customer's identification.

Verify that the written and numerical amounts are the same.

Additionally, pay attention to the physical. 

One of these should include a photograph. Verify that the customer's identification is current and that the signature matches the name printed on the check. Be especially cautious when accepting starter or temporary checks.
 

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