Originally created 01/15/04

Police seek man over false checks



Richmond County authorities are searching for a man who they said cashed false checks at several Augusta-area businesses.

Richmond County sheriff's Investigator Anita Hopson, of the technical crimes division, said the man presented the fictitious checks and cashed them using his identification.

Investigator Hopson said the man used what appears to be a legitimate, state-issued ID card. But the name on the card and the picture do not match, and she said the man might have used someone else's personal information to obtain the ID.

She said three businesses, within days of each other, reported that the man presented the false checks. Authorities were able to obtain the ID card and one of the checks - which had legitimate bank routing and bank account numbers - when a clerk at one of the businesses stopped to call and verify the account.

Investigator Hopson said the man fled after the clerk tried to verify the check.

She said sheriff's investigators have seen an increase in this type of identity theft, as computer technology has allowed people to print legitimate-looking checks.

"This is getting ridiculous," Investigator Hopson said. "You can actually purchase check paper at local office supply stores and make your own checks."

Combine that with the easy accessibility of fake IDs, and passing false checks becomes an easy way for criminals to make money, she said.

While her agency does not know of any underground groups that make the IDs in Augusta, many identity thieves simply leave town for Atlanta or Columbia to obtain them, she said.

"It's worth going out of town when you can do thousands of dollars' worth of damage," Investigator Hopson said.

Clerks or cashiers who are presented with fishy checks should call the check's listed bank to verify the information, Investigator Hopson said.

If the check is presented on a weekend, "as a business, you can always refuse the check," she said.

She said her office expects more incidents involving the man. Anyone with information on his whereabouts or his identity is asked to call the Richmond County Sheriff's Office at 821-1080 or 821-1020.

Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or jeremy.craig@augustachronicle.com.