Sheriff’s Office: Look out for fake checks

Check cashing businesses in Mahoning County have lost out on thousands of dollars because of fraudulent checks that seem to be coming from a reliable source — the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office.

Counterfeiters have made nearly $8,000 with fake checks this month that claim to be issued from the coffers of the Trumbull County Jail’s commissary accounts, according to Chief Deputy Tom Stewart.

While an inmate is housed in the jail, his or her family members or friends can add money to their commissary accounts so they can purchase items like food and toiletries from the jail.

When the inmate is released, the jail issues the man or woman a check for the remaining balance in the commissary account, Stewart said.

Someone took the legitimate routing numbers from the check and started placing them on counterfeits, Stewart said.

The checks started popping up in October — all at Mahoning County businesses and mostly check cashing establishments, Stewart said. Huntington Bank notified the sheriff’s office of the occurrence, Stewart said. Because of the bank’s fraud detection service, neither the sheriff’s office nor bank lost out on money, but the businesses that cashed them did.

The smallest check was for $825, and the others were around $1,250 or more.

The check cashing businesses usually take a fee to cash the check and send the customer on his or her way with the remaining balance; it takes about a week before they realize the funds aren’t there.

Stewart said his office is reaching out to law enforcement agencies where the checks were cashed to coordinate an investigation. With any luck, the businesses had surveillance video that might help identify the culprit, Stewart said.

Businesses who are asked to cash a check that seems to be issued from the jail’s commissary should ask for identification and have the check in-hand before telling the customer the business has to verify the check with the sheriff’s office first, Stewart said.

If it is a fake, the person will probably leave, but the business should keep the check and the identification information, Stewart said. The business should also call the police department where the business is located, Stewart said.