MILWAUKEE — A massive counterfeit check scam with a large number of victims all started with con-men 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 fraud victim, Jim Reynolds.
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," recalled Reynolds.
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… 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," Reynolds.
Postal inspectors began tracking the checks and quickly learned the broad scope of the scam. Inspectors discovered most of the victims of the scam were young college students.
"They posted their apartment for sub lease on Craigslist or another marketplace…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,’” explained U.S. Postal Inspector David Gealey.
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 recommended.
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. 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,” Reynolds said.
If someone asks or instructs you to send money to them — odds are it's a scam. Those odds increase if you are conducting business online and don't really know who you are dealing with.