FORT MYERS, Fla. - The arrest total in a scam involving the Lee County School District is up to 35. The scam involved cashing fake school district payroll checks at Wal-Mart stores. More than $60,000 in bogus checks were cashed but it's not over yet, three people are still wanted. WINK News Call for Action Investigator Genevieve Judge discovered this could easily happen to you.
If you have a checkbook or even a direct deposit slip, you could be the victim of the same kind of scam that hit the Lee County School District over the last four months.
Writing checks. Some do it, some don't. But if you have a checkbook or a direct deposit slip, you hold all the information a scammer needs to make and cash fake checks.
"Once its processed through the system there is really no way to prevent it going through the system," said Cathy Rubinski, Vice President, Florida Gulf Bank.
To understand why, you need to understand the anatomy of a check. The nine digit number printed on the lower left corner is called the routing number. Each bank has it's own number. The next set of numbers are your account number. So anyone who gets those two numbers can print a bogus check. Your first line of defense? Pay attention to who gets your checks but that's not easy.
"If you're issuing a check, a check is out there. It goes through many, many hands and anybody, again, can create a fraudulent item," said Rubinski.
In the case of the Lee County School District check scam, a spokesman for the district told WINK News even though the checks cashed by more than 30 suspects with the name of the Lee County School District on them, amounting to thousands of dollars, the district isn't out a dime.
That's because the district account wasn't accessed. The check cashing company inside Wal-Mart loses out. If you get ripped off and report it fast, Florida Gulf Bank says just like with the Lee County School District, the checks will get sent back to where they were first cashed.
"They get sent back through the system and they go back to the bank of first deposit. The account that they were deposited at, at the bank of first deposit, gets charged back. If there is not enough money in that account or that account happens to be closed, then that bank takes the loss," said Rubinski.
Some banks may go as far as closing your account and starting a new one to make sure whoever does have your information won't be able to use it anymore.
As for the Lee County School District case, investigators say all 35 people arrested have been booked into the Lee County Jail on charges of fraud and grand theft. But still, the Fort Myers Police Department and the Lee County Sheriff's Office are looking for three more people.
"We need to get them off the streets because we're trying to prevent this from happening again. The people that we've arrested so far, that have bonded out, have not committed anymore crimes in reference to this," said Detective Thomas Cole, Lee County Sheriff's Office.
During our months of investigating this case, WINK News has learned that at least one of the people arrested is related to someone working for the Lee County School District. Several of the people arrested already had criminal records. The school district still isn't commenting but trust WINK News to keep following the story.