Fraudulent checks increasing

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 18, 2003

At least one Andalusia business has fallen victim to a scam involving fraudulent checks written for large sums of money.

Jackson Honda on River Falls Street was scammed recently by a man using the identity of Confes Vazquez, and passing a check with a real account number, but fake information.

The check, written on the Troy Bank and Trust, was passed as an insurance check from the Allstate Insurance Corporation in the amount of $7,500.

According to Det. Wade Garrett of the Andalusia Police Department, the check was originally written as a legitimate check for a small amount of money, and then "washed" and rewritten for a large sum as an insurance check.

"The subject obtained a bank check for a few dollars in Pike County, washed it, and then printed it on a computer to look like an insurance check," Det. Garrett said. "So far, this is the only place in Covington County that we know of where this subject as passed checks, but he's been doing this everywhere from Louisiana to south Florida.. We believe he has been working with an accomplice, but

she is believed to in custody in Virginia.

One thing that makes the checks so difficult to identify as fraudulent is the fact they are real checks, not just pieces of paper printed off of a color printer to look like a check.

"These checks have micro printing, watermarks

several of the safeguards of checks," Garrett said. "He took the real check from the bank, found a logo from a business and scanned it onto the check and printed it out. Quite frequently, these are the checks that most small businesses use, and the counterfeiters will use the same computer program that businesses use. Everything about them is real

except for the information."

As for the check that was apprehended at Jackson Honda, Luke Jackson, owner, said it looked just as real as any check other check.

"From what I understand, the bank thought it looked real enough, and they sent it through several times," Jackson said. "I didn't ask as many questions as I should have, but I thought it was a real insurance check."

Jackson said Vazquez used the check to purchase an automobile, and get the

difference in purchase price back in cash.

"He used it to purchase a 1/2 ton pickup truck," Jackson said. "The check was for more than the cost of the truck, and so I gave him the difference back in cash. If I'd known it was a fake, I would have gotten him to stand in front of the (surveillance) camera to get his picture. He probably would have left the check and ran then."

But, fortunately, Jackson didn't get scammed on the truck.

"He left with the truck, but he pulled it around behind the building next door, and we found it a few days later."

As for taking checks like the one that's at the root of the investigation, Jackson said he's a lot more cautious now.

"From now on, they can take the check to the bank and let them cash it," he said. "I'm not going to do it anymore."

Jackson also said he had some advice for other businesses in town.

"Don't take or cash any checks you're not 100 percent sure of," he said. "If someone tries to pass a check that you're not sure about, or that you know is bad, share it with other businesses in town."

Garrett said fraudulent check passing is becoming one of the biggest criminal acts in the country, and as technology improves, so does the technology of the criminals.

"The technology helps them, but, at the same time, that technology helps us to catch them quicker," Garrett said. "There are some very good criminals out there making these checks. They find real company checks and alter them. Usually, though, the checks are relatively easy to identify, it's the identification that's harder to counterfeit."

Garrett also warned area businesses to contact the police if they believe they have been the victim of fraudulent checks, or would like more information on how to identify them.