UPDATE 6/25/12 @ 6:15 p.m.
NEW BOSTON, Ohio (WSAZ) -- For hundreds of Tri-State residents, it's not that the check's in the mail. Instead, their checks were stolen, forged and cashed -- for amounts police are still adding up.
WSAZ.com has learned that a suspected forgery ring in three states seems rooted in identity theft.
One forgery victim explained to New Boston Police Capt. Steve Goins how someone stole somehow forged from a book of her checks -- amounting to nearly $900 in store charges.
“I had turned these into the bank,” the victim said. “They were duplicates, and supposed to be shredded. I don't know if they were counterfeited or stolen.”
Goins says in early June, a Rush, Ky., couple's counterfeit check was traced to Clifton Payne who was spotted buying a big screen TV at the Walmart in New Boston. Then, last Friday, he was spotted doing the same thing again.
Clifton Payne, 43, of Ironton, Ohio, was arrested, and led police to a borrowed Mini Cooper car in the parking lot. It was loaded with fake ID cards and counterfeit checks.
“We recovered 31 counterfeit checks and five fake IDs that this individual possessed,” Goins said.
Police say Payne confessed he was one of many who -- at a South Point, Ohio motel -- met the still unnamed mastermind of a three-state counterfeit check crime ring.
Goins says big-screen TVs are the purchase item of choice for forged counterfeit checks.
Checks also were found cashed at Walmart stores in Boyd County, Ky., and Huntington, W.Va. -- checks and fake IDs police say were likely obtained by identify theft.
“I’m sure they are tapping into a database, getting these account numbers, names, addresses taken from these people, making counterfeit checks up, and IDs made,” Goins said. “It’s easy to do after that.”
He says the forgery victim list is growing and spreading by the day. At least one counterfeit check was traced to a store in Arkansas.
New Boston Police are contacting West Virginia and Kentucky law enforcement to get a joint investigation that leads to more arrests. Police give much credit to the New Boston Walmart security guard who recognized the return suspect, who was later arrested.
New Boston Police arrested 43- year-old Clifton Payne at the Walmart in New Boston last Friday after investigators say he bought a flat screen TV using a counterfeit check from a couple in Rusk, Ky.
Police say this was second time that Payne had used a counterfeit check from the couple to buy at flat screen at Walmart. They also say that during that first visit he cashed another counterfeit check for more than $400.
The couple told police they were also victims of similar crimes at several stores in Kentucky and West Virginia where counterfeit checks were cashed and expensive items purchased.
Following his arrest, Payne was charged with four counts of forgery and two counts of telecommunication fraud.
Police say that during questioning, they leaned that Payne is one of many people going around the Tri-State area and cashing counterfeit checks and having stolen identities from multiple victims.
According to a news release, it is believed that the victim’s personal identity information was either hacked or stolen from data bases. The suspects were then able to make up counterfeit bank checks with the real victim names on them and also have fake identification cards with the victim names on them. In the case of Clifton Payne, his picture was on the identification card to evade detection.
Anyone with information about Payne or other suspects is asked to call New Boston Police at 740-456-4109 and speak to Captain Steve Goins.
Payne is scheduled to arraigned on the charges Monday morning in Portsmouth Municipal Court.
Police say once the case is presented to the Scioto County Grand Jury, Payne could face an additional fifteen counts of forgery for every counterfeit check and identification card found in his possession at the time of his arrest.
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