COLUMBIA — Police are seeking a suspect who tried to use fraudulent traveler’s checks in at least four local businesses.
Someone tried to pass bad traveler’s checks at Tucker’s Fine Jewelry and Buchroeder’s Jewelers earlier this week, an similar checks were used in the past two months at Westlake Ace Hardware and Hennessy & Sons Music.
Sgt. Ken Hammond of the Columbia Police Department said he believes the same suspect is responsible for all four incidents.
On Tuesday at about 6 p.m., Tucker’s owner Robert Tucker said a man in his early 20s with a medium build tried to use a $500 American Express traveler’s check to purchase a $300 white gold wedding band.
Tucker said he was suspicious of the check because the suspect didn’t ask if the store accepts traveler’s checks and then took the liberty of filing out the entire check on his own even though a witness is supposed to be present. Tucker also said it was the customer’s third visit of the day.
“When they make three visits in the same day, and they are all 1½ hours apart, it makes you scratch your head and wonder,” Tucker said.
Tucker told the customer he didn’t have $200 in change to give him and to return the next day. He also told the man he would verify the check before giving him the ring.
“It just didn’t have the right feel to it,” he said, mentioning the extra ink smudges on the check and the customer’s behavior. Most traveler’s checks are also in denominations of $20 and $100.
Tucker’s call to American Express confirmed the check was indeed a fake. Tucker notified the police that night about the incident. The customer didn’t return the next day, Tucker said.
Tucker, a Central Columbia Association board member, then e-mailed Carrie Gartner, director of the group, to warn others.
Gartner, who is also director of the Special Business District, sent out an e-mail alert to members warning of the counterfeit fraud.
Gartner said the Special Business District just held a seminar warning merchants about fraud in preparation for the holidays. About once a year, the Special Business District sends out a fraud e-mail alert, Gartner said.
Hammond said that even with education it can be difficult for retailers to spot fraudulent checks, which are commonly used.
“Nowadays with computers and scanners, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a real check and a fake check,” Hammond said.