Secret Service warn local businesses about counterfeit travelers check ring

Monday, May 6th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A warning to retailers, the US Secret Service says a major counterfeiting ring is based in Tulsa.

It involves people passing fake traveler's checks, which is costing Green Country businesses a fortune. News on Six crime reporter Lori Fullbright says the operation is huge.

They've hit businesses in seven states, but, since Tulsa is their base of operation, our stores get the worst of it. They recently took the Ross Dress for Less store here for $7,000 in two weeks. The Secret Service files contain page after page after page of confiscated counterfeit traveler's checks.

Investigators say the suspects make the checks with a computer, then, either recruit people to pass them or sell them for about 20 cents on the dollars. Detective Rick Koch with the US Secret Service: "They know an American Express traveler's check is the only kind of check McDonalds will take, so, they order a five dollar happy meal and pay with a $100 traveler's check and walk away with $95 in cash." Koch says one weekend, they drove from Tulsa, through Joplin and Kansas City to Omaha and hit every single McDonalds on the way there and back, which really adds up. There's another way they use these counterfeit traveler's checks. One weekend they went to a Target store in Dallas and bought tons of these gift cards, then, came back to Tulsa and spent them on merchandise they want. Sometimes they sell that merchandise for a third of what it's worth, because it's all profit to them.

Koch says this group is based in Tulsa and he's tracked them to six other states, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Louisiana and Georgia. And, they're getting greedier as they go. "When this began, they were using hundred dollar denominations. Now, they're doing a thousand. I've also had checks in 700, 900 and American Express does not issue checks in those denominations." Real traveler's checks only come in $20, $50, $500 and $1000. And, another way to tell if it's real, the denomination will be on the back, the number on the left will smear if you add moisture to it, the number on the right will not. The counterfeiters didn't even bother trying to make the back of their checks look real.

Police have already arrested several people and detectives say they know most of the players still out there, including the ringleader, it's just a matter of getting all the paperwork together.

Once they're caught, these people will face federal counterfeiting charges. But the key right now, is for businesses to be educated about these fake traveler's checks and what they look like.