Some people have expensive taste, but can’t afford to buy the real thing; so, they purchase knock-offs or counterfeit consumer goods that look almost identical to expensive name brand items.  Whether the fake items are designer clothes, high-end purses, imitation Rolex watches or Cubic Zirconia, sometimes it’s hard to tell the imitation from the real thing.  DelawareOnline.com reports on a Newark woman who produced and wrote an abundance of counterfeit checks to nationally known retail stores and got away with more than $100,000 in real goods.

The story states that over a 10-month period, the 37-year-old woman used a computer software program, special check paper and “MICR-compliant” check-writing ink to fabricate hundreds of counterfeit checks. (MICR stands for Magnetic Ink Character Recognition and is a special magnetic ink that allows check numbers, bank routing numbers, checking account numbers and the amount of the check to be read by the receiver, usually a bank.) The woman used the names of real banks and their routing numbers, but created fake account numbers.  The fraudster and her co-conspirators involved in the check fraud scheme wrote checks to multiple national retail stores.  They perpetrators got away with writing over 700 bad checks and more than 250 were actually honored by the financial institution. (So 450 checks were not honored, wasn’t that a clue?)

So whose names were on the checks, you ask?  The scheme also involved the purchase of 200 personal identification profiles. The fraud ring used more than 65 Social Security numbers (SSNs), plus drivers’ licenses and identification documents to attempt to cash the fake checks.  The article reports that the ringleader also used the SSN of another person to lease her home and set up cable and power services. (Shocking! She probably used her mom’s identity.)

What stands out about this case is that this was not her only experience with identity theft and check fraud.  During her six-day trial, she admitted that she had served nearly two years in prison on a prior conviction and had been involved in this type of fraud for over 10 years. (Hello, have you not learned your lesson yet?)

The fraudster was ordered to serve six years and nine months in jail for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, identity theft, access device fraud, fraudulent use of a SSN and aggravated identity theft. (I like this judge.)  Maybe this time around, a longer jail sentence will allow the repeat criminal time to contemplate why faking checks and taking identities doesn’t make it.

  1. It does not surprise me that the principal defendant in this case was not deterred from repeating her fraudulent activites by her initial prison sentence. She likely learned how to perfect her techniques in jail, associating with other criminals, as her current scheme lasted 10 months. It would be interesting to know how much time elapsed between her release from custody after the first conviction and her second arrest.
    She had to spend some time collecting alternate identities and assembling a team to pass the checks.
    It also does not surprise me that the targeted banks and law enforcement took months to determine the extent of the fraud and that a single criminal enterprise was responsible. Given multiple jurisdictions, and the time needed to identify the common denominators of the scheme, it is laudable that the enterprise was closed down after only ten months.
    What surprises me is that the banks cleared 250 checks with fake account numbers. We no longer live in the world where the check forger portrayed in the book and movie “Catch Me If You Can” was able to impersonate professional individuals and delay bank transactions by creating routing numbers for distant Federal Reserve regions. The electronic processing of checks should have immediately identified that the the checks were written on non-existent accounts, and there were no funds available to cover the items. If actual accounts were created and used, the owners of those accounts should have dentified and reported the fraudulent activity promptly. But the reality is that most people don’t even keep their debit card receipts, much less reconcile account activity with their monthly statements. It is a lack of vigilance by both the banks and the affected customers that enabled this scheme to work for as long as it did.
    Will a longer prison sentence deter this individual? She made $10,000.00 a month for ten months. She won’t realize that, factored over nearly eight years, she really stole less than $1,100.00 per month. That’s not much return on effort, but what are her employment opportunities after multiple felony fraud convictions? She will learn from her mistakes, and will last longer and steal more when she is released from custody and promptly returns to another criminal scheme. All because it is too much trouble for Americans to monitor their bank accounts, and for banks to develop anti-fraud measures that stop these thieves in their tracks.

  2. Thanks for sharing :) It’s important to know that true identity theft is defined as when someone steals personal information to create new unauthorized accounts or relationships.

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