Businesses advised to watch for fraudulent payroll checks

By Abby Morris
Star Staff

   Area businesses are being advised by the Elizabethton Police Department to be cautions when accepting a payroll check as payment for merchandise -- the check may be a fraud.
   Recently, the Elizabethton Police Department has seen an increase in fraudulent payroll checks being reported to the department, according to EPD Capt. Mike Peters, of the Criminal Investigations Division. The checks are being printed by computers and appear to be a legitimate payroll check he said.
   "They use check stock and print them up with a legitimate business name and a legitimate business address so it looks like a legitimate payroll check," Peters said. "When you look at all the information on the check all of that information looks good."
   The checks which have been reported to the EPD thus far have been on what Peters described as "well known" businesses such as Summers-Taylor Construction, Fed-Ex, UPS and Papa John's Pizza.
   "We really want to alert primarily the grocery stores," Peters said, adding that grocery stores have been where most of the fraudulent checks had been passed. "Ingle's, Food City, Wal-Mart, White's, really every grocery store in town," Peters said.
   The checks have ranged in valued from $300-$500, according to Peters. "They will appear like a normal week's pay for the area they are working in," he said.
   Most of the checks have been passed at local businesses on the weekends or in the evening, times when the stores are traditionally busy. "They are primarily hitting the grocery stores on Thursday, Friday or Saturday so by the time the check gets to the bank it has been seven to 10 days and these people have had time to clear out of the area," Peters said. "They usually hit during a time when the business on the check cannot be contacted, after hours."
   The recent rash of fraudulent payroll checks is a problem that is currently being faced across the state, according to Peters, adding that several people in Middle and West Tennessee have been arrested for printing fraudulent checks but the cases locally do not appear to be linked to the cases west of here. "Some of these people arrested in Middle and West Tennessee have been doing this in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Kentucky," Peters said.
   Peters said he is advising area businesses such as grocery stores to use caution when taking a payroll check which they have suspicions about. "These people generally try to buy $50 or $60 in groceries and the store doesn't want to lose the business but in the end they end up losing the merchandise and the money," he said.
   According to Peters, the checks have been passed on fake identification and with false phone numbers. Peters said he advises the local stores to instruct their employees to carefully examine a driver's license when taking a payroll check. "Look carefully at the hologram seals on the license because those are hard to reproduce," he said.
   One of the things that makes the cases hard for investigators to follow up on is a lack of information about the people passing the checks. With the checks being written and cashed on a fake identification and with a false phone number, that does not give investigators much to go on when trying to solve the case. "If they (store employees) have any suspicions, if they could get one of the bag boys to get a tag number and see what kind of car the people get into and write that on the back of the check that would give us something to go on if the check comes back," Peters said.
   Another way Peters advised for local businesses to protect themselves from this kind of fraud would be to have their employees familiarize themselves with what the legitimate checks from local employers look like, what kind of check stock they are printed on and who signs the checks for authorization. "It might not even be a bad idea to request a voided check from local employers so they can familiarize themselves with what their check stock looks like," he said.