On Wednesday at around 1:10 pm, the Elmira Police Department was contacted by a local bank reporting that they had been issued a forged check. The suspect was still at the bank and the forged check was in the possession of bank staff. Officers arrived on scene and located the 33 year old Elmira male suspect. The male was transported to the Elmira Police Detective Bureau and interviewed by investigators.
A subsequent investigation revealed that at least two financial institutions had been the target of an intricate forged check cashing scam. Investigators learned of at least five forged checks being cashed on the 18th and 19th of December in the Elmira and Corning area. These checks totaled over $20,000. Investigators have identified four suspects responsible for cashing the checks.
The individuals responsible for cashing the checks were recruited by a criminal organization who specializes in this style of scam. The investigation discovered that the events that occurred locally mirrored those that law enforcement officials across the nation have been encountering. The criminal activity has come to be known as “Operation Homeless” and/or “Money Mule.”
Police say this scam is believed to have originated in the southern states with the Bloods and Crips street gangs, but noted that investigators have not found a connection to these gangs with this local incident. The actors recruit people from homeless shelters, probation and parole offices, Salvation Army rehab centers and bus stations. They typically look for individuals who appear to be having financial difficulties. The actors offer to pay the recruit under the table. The suspect from Elmira was recruited while he was collecting cigarette butts off the street.
The actors make sure that their recruits have two forms of valid identification. With identifications in hand, the actors utilize a rental vehicle to transport the recruit to a local thrift style store. New clothes are purchased for the recruit. In this incident, a local Dollar General was visited. The team then drives to another location where a public bathroom is available. In this incident, a store in Big Flats was utilized. One of the actors escorts the recruit into the public bathroom to change into the new clothes. They then respond to a local fast food restaurant and purchase a meal for the recruit. One of the actors remains with the recruit while the other responds back to a rented motel/hotel room close by. The room is typically equipped with a laptop computer, magnetic printer and several different styles and templates of blank checks.
The checks are duplicated from actual checks that had been stolen earlier. The common way of obtaining the real checks is to steal them from corporate mailboxes. The checks desired are from local companies as to legitimize the forgeries. A forgery expert duplicates the checks and associated signatures. The recruit’s information from the identifications is then imprinted into the payee section of the check. These cloned checks are sophisticated and highly detailed.
The actors then transport the recruit to the same bank that the checks are issued by. The actors will keep in constant cell phone contact with the recruit during the entire transaction in order to monitor the recruits activity, deceit or success. Once the check is cashed, the actors provide the recruit with a very small cash payment for their efforts. In this case, the recruit was offered $300 for the cashing of over $20,000 worth of checks.
The matter is still under investigation and possible charges are pending.
The Elmira Police Department requests that financial institutions and area businesses be made aware of this trend as to prepare security strategies to counter these tactics.