Counterfeit check scam affects college kids

A massive counterfeit check scam with a large number of victims all started with conmen getting access to one check from one legitimate company.

"The check was not a valid check. It was drawn on us without our knowledge," said Jim Reynolds, who was one of the victims of the fraud.

Reynolds quickly learned his company, Richey Metals, was caught in a large-scale counterfeit check scam.

"We received almost 150 checks drawn on our account," Reynolds said. "None actually came out of our account."

Con-artists got a hold of one of Richey Metals' checks, began producing counterfeit versions and used them in financial transactions all over the country.

"There were several people doing it," Reynolds said. "Whether they sold the information on the Internet to somebody else, is what we suspect happened. It wasn't the same person over and over doing it."

Postal inspectors began tracking the checks and quickly learned the broad scope of the scam.

U.S. Postal Inspector David Gealey said most of the victims of the check scam were young college students.

"They posted their apartment for sub lease on Craigslist or another marketplace, and they would receive interested parties saying they were an overseas student, and they were interested in the apartment, ‘I'm going to send you a check,'" Gealey said.

The students would receive a check in an Express Mail package and would question why it was for more than necessary. If they did deposit the check, they were told to send the difference back to an address.

After a few days for "processing," the check would bounce and the students or victims were on the hook for the money.

"If you receive a check for more than the amount of the product …  use common sense and say, ‘This isn't right,' and don't participate in the transaction," Gealey said.

The Richey Metals company worked with its bank and did not lose any money, but the scam has taken its toll.

"I can tell you it's a long process," Reynolds said. "It wears on you, and we're thankful we didn't have any issues with losing money. And you gain a new respect for what's going on out there and the criminals."

If someone asks or instructs you to send money to them, odds are it's a scam, especially if you are conducting business online and don't really know who you are dealing with.

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