Police Hold Fraud Seminar
Seated: Somerset Police Chief Randy Cox,
standing from left: Prennsylvania State Police Sgt. John P. Rock,
Pete Luteri, security officer for Somerset Trust Co,
Chris Smail, general manager for Ruby Tuesday,
and Christina Coleman, teller for Ameri-Serv Financial.
By VICKI ROCK
Daily American Staff Writer
A Somerset County resident recently lost $40,000 in a lottery scam, Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. John P. Rock said Friday at a seminar “Fraud and the Somerset Business” state police and Somerset Borough Police presented. Somerset area banking institutions sponsored the seminar hosted by Ruby Tuesday. That person received a letter from Spain stating he won $615,810 in a lottery, but needed to submit his banking information for the money to be wired to him, Rock said. Instead of him receiving money, he lost it. State police are working with federal officials, but don’t know if the man will get his money back.
Less than five percent of credit card and check forgery losses were recovered by court restitution from 1988 through 1998, Somerset Police Chief Randy Cox said. Less than two percent of those arrested for those crimes were sent to jail. Those were the most recent figures available. “We all lose when those crimes occur,” Cox said. “We need to put the idea that they are victimless crimes out of our heads. We’re all victims.”
In a PowerPoint presentation, police showed merchants what to look for to try to detect forgeries when people present personal checks, credit cards or cash. Cox used a computer to show how easy it is to make a fake check. “Retail theft is one thing the business community has the smallest understanding about,” he said. “You don’t have to let a shoplifter out the door before stopping him. If you see someone pocket something, you can confront them and detain them. If you’re concerned about violence, retreat. Let us confront them.”
Businesses’ reputations in the community are important, he said. If businesses don’t prosecute people for shoplifting or writing bad checks, that becomes known and those businesses will be targeted. “I am a firm believer in team work,” Rock said. “Law enforcement and business people have to work together to combat crime. In Somerset County, the primary area where fraud and forgery occurs is in Somerset Borough and right around it. Our goal is to investigate, apprehend and prosecute those criminals. I can’t stress it enough — you’ve got to prosecute. The bad guys have to know, send the message out, we mean business.” Businesses should develop a policy about prosecuting bad check and shoplifting crimes and post signs in the businesses stating that you will prosecute. It is important for merchants to observe people and their actions. Be able to provide police with a description. “Our worst enemy is complacency,” Rock said. “You let your guard down and something happens. Be a firm believer in trusting your instincts.”
Earlier this week, a man stopped at a convenience store in Greensburg. He left his truck running when he went in for a cup of coffee, the sergeant said. When he came out, his truck had been stolen. The man told police he does that every day and his truck had never been stolen. His truck was later used as a get-away vehicle in an armed robbery.
District Attorney Jerry Spangler said the newest problem in Somerset County is people writing bad checks to support drug habits. “Have a sound business practice in place,” he said. “Get proof of a person’s identification when accepting a check.” If a business accepts a bad check and the person who wrote it sets up a payment plan with the business, if he stops making payments, that becomes a civil case and criminal charges can no longer be filed," he said. District Justice Arthur Cook of Somerset said bad check complaints filed in his office are down in the past several years because of the district attorney’s program which defers the majority to a collection agency instead of to the court system. Those filed with the district justice are primarily criminal offenses because the amount is for more than $200 or it is a person’s third or subsequent bad check. “Act quickly when you receive a bad check because there is a process you must go through,” Cook said. “Don’t wait months. If you want to prosecute someone, it takes one to three years for you to get your money. If you agree to a settlement, it will be much quicker.”
The police are available to present additional seminars to business owners and their employees, Cox said. To discuss scheduling one, contact either the Somerset Borough or state police.
(Vicki Rock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)