Authorities are trying to determine the root of a check cashing scheme that has drained $21,000 from the Bryan County Tax Commissioner's bank account since early September.
Tax Commissioner Carrol Ann Coleman said the fraud was discovered Monday when a bank in Pennsylvania called her office with concerns about the look of a check that was cashed there.
“We’re trying to get to the bottom of this,” Coleman said. “They sent us a copy of the check, and we compared it to our bank statements. We realized right away it was counterfeit.”
Coleman said she believes someone took a legitimate tax refund check and used it as a prototype for the fake checks. Some 19 fraudulent checks have been discovered so far, cashed between Sept. 6 and Sept. 14 for amounts ranging from $273 to $2,773. The checks have been cashed in California, Louisiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, so far, but none in Georgia.
Coleman said the amounts the checks were written for did not match any checks her office has written and the check numbers were out of sequence.
“We’re only in the 17000s right now and these were all in the 19000s and 27000s,” she said. “The fakes all had the correct account number though and were deposited by either taking a picture or at an ATM.”
Coleman said the Georgia Department of Revenue has been contacted.
“I’m not sure if this will go to the FBI or not,” she said. “It involves bank fraud, what looks like mail fraud and involves crossing state lines.”
Coleman said the county will ultimately not be out any money because its accounts are insured.
“We’re working with the fraud protection people at each bank to make sure they also don’t lose any money,” she noted.
The memo line on each check says “Excess funds 2011 tax sale,” which Coleman said was found on one recent legitimate check her office sent out.
“Someone somehow must have gotten a hold of that check and reproduced it with my signature on it,” she said. “We’ll see what the state has to say. This may have happened before in another county and they might be able to help us figure it out.”
Coleman said the endorsements on each check, however, look very similar. The names the fraudulent checks were mailed to, however, do not all match who the checks were made out to.
“Some of the endorsements are printed and some are in cursive, but they all look similar,” she said.
Coleman added that there is a chance her office will have to close the account and open a new one.
“That would be a real hassle because there are legitimate refund checks we’ve sent to people that haven’t been cashed yet.”