A local elementary teacher said she was the victim of check-washing when someone got a hold of several checks and altered them scamming her out of thousands of dollars, she suspects a thief removed her checks from the mailbox at the La Quinta U.S. post office.
The teacher, Lisa Caronna, runs an afterschool tutoring program and she said her director always drops off check payments at the La Quinta USPS but recently her accountant noticed some strange activity in her books.
“It is something that is happening, it’s happening in our desert, and it’s happening in our valley,” Caronna said. “They changed it from a check that was in the hundreds… to a check that was in the high thousands.”
She said the checks are hers but the amount and the person paid to are not. One of the washed-checks was altered to more than $8,000 made out to Big M’s BBQ Sauce, a business in North Carolina she had never heard of.
The scammers allegedly called the barbeque business owner and told him they wanted to invest money in the business and they shortly asked him to return some of it back.
Caronna said, “The president of the Bank said, yes that’s what they do, they make investments and then they call and get some of the money back, not all of it, there’s no red flag on the other side.”
She said she has no idea who took her checks and made the call.
She said, “No, not at all, the mail was dropped off in the La Quinta Post Office and you trust the post office and there you go.”
Caronna immediately reported the irregularities with the local police department. Patricia Mendoza is a Postal Inspector and she said her office is notified of the theft reports.
Mendoza said, “We work together at any report related to any mail because they know that the mail is our jurisdiction as far as inspection service.”
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service recovers about one billion dollars in counterfeit checks each year, Mendoza said people can help avoid falling a victim by dropping off mail close to pick-up time.
Mendoza said, “Ensure that it is before the last pick up and don’t let it sit overnight.”
Caronna said the scammers took about $10,000 from her business, although her bank will cover the fraud.
Still, she said the experience left her feeling targeted.
Caronna said, “Just thievery, just thieves, it’s very ugly.”
Caronna said, investigators told her they found checks belonging to at least four other people during the investigation, experts said paying close attention to your bank statements is the best way to keep track of any irregularities.