JEFFERSON — They look like real payroll checks issued by area businesses, but when local retailers deposit them, they discover the check is a scam.
Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department detectives say they have received complaints of at least five instances where local businesses cashed what they thought was a payroll check that turned out to be counterfeit. They feel that the checks are being generated using a bookkeeping software that allows the user to customize the business’ name and phone number on the check.
A carpet store, remodeling business and industrial supply retailer are among the local businesses who have had their identities stolen by the bogus check writer. Detectives say that the bogus checks include a phone number that is answered by a person who assures the caller that the check is bona fide.
According to a sheriff’s department report, a check for $322.85 was cashed by an Ashtabula Harbor restaurant on Jan. 28 for a 29-year-old customer who lives near the restaurant. It appeared to be a payroll check from a local builder, but turned out to be fraudulent. The man who cashed the check could face charges in Ashtabula Municipal Court, according to the report.
Detectives say check amounts have ranged from $300 to $700 and the scheme has been going on for at least two weeks. Detectives say they expect there will be more cases if local businesses are not more cautious about taking checks.
They strongly recommend that retailers and restaurants simply refuse to cash payroll checks.
“That’s why they have banks,” says Lt. Terry Moisio of the department.
If a business owner decides to accept a payroll check, he should call the check issuer’s phone number listed in the telephone book, not the one on the payroll check, to verify that it was indeed issued to the person presenting the document.
Detectives could not say what color the original checks are because they have, thus far, received only copies of the documents back from the business stung by the scam.