Check fraud scams receive less punishment due to reforms.

Steena Hymes

February 13, 2014

According to LaGrange Police, state reforms are making it difficult to charge scam artists responsible for creating fraudulent checks to be charged with a felony. These reforms are a result of the House Bill 1176 put into effect July of 2012.

The police have reported 10 cases since the first of the year. Approximately 105 fraud cases were reported in 2013, according to Lt. Dale Strickland.

While check scams are nothing new, the state reforms have made it difficult to put criminals in jail.

Previously, the simple act of being in possession of a fraudulent check would constitute a felony. However, now there must be the possession of at least 10 or more checks under $1500, or possession of check(s) in the amount of $1,500 or more to make it a felony. Everything under is now considered misdemeanors.

The punishment for misdemeanors are no more than a year in jail or no more than a $1,000 fine. Since the reforms, Det. Milton Ligon said there has been an increase in fraudulent checks under $1,500 making it impossible to charge them with a felony.

“It’s not really affecting the number the number of cases … but the outcome of those cases with the punishment,” Strickland said. “We’re at the mercy of the law.”

Det. Ligon handles about 95 percent of fraud cases and said these reforms have caused a significant increase in their investigation work.

Det. Ligon said scam artists have been making there way down the interstate, including LaGrange.

These fraud artists are regenerating duplicates of legitimate payroll checks and cashing them at local businesses and banks.

Strickland said that the people behind these fraudulent checks have been able to purchase the special security paper used to print payroll checks and use it to print duplicate checks with the same routing and banking numbers.

Taking the scam even further, if one were to validate the check, the call would be re-routed to designated phone of those involved and they would approve it.

By the time police have tracked down the culprit, the money is already gone.

“The only person we get is somebody that was kind of the mule so to speak … not the person responsible for creating the check and it’s sure not the person responsible for getting the most money out of the deal,” Strickland said.

Ligon said there has been an increase of convenience stores and check-cash places being the method of stealing money.

Strickland said because the sentence is much less based on the law that the incentive for somebody to create fake checks is even greater because the punishments are not as severe.

Ligon said that check fraud is common because of all the industrial plants in the area and the use of temporary workers. According to Ligon local businesses affected have been KIA, and most recently the Troup County Board of Education was a victim of these payroll check scams in the month of January.

The laws have changed and they don’t appear to be beneficial for us,” Strickland said.