Old school fraud scheme drains Irondequoit woman's accounts, News10NBC follows the money

August 22, 2018 08:42 PM

News10NBC is trying to unravel the mystery of a crime that emptied the checking accounts of a local woman and spread the money across the country.

Most identity theft these days is high tech. This case is old school. It's about stealing and forging checks, putting them in the mail, trying to take every dollar a woman has. 

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"Devastation is the first word that comes to mind," Janet Vieau told News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean in her house in Irondequoit Monday. 

Vieau sits in her house pouring over bank documents trying to figure out how she became victim to a more than $20,000 check fraud scheme.

"How could it happen? How possibly could it happen?" she asked. "I rarely write a check."

This involves her two banks, Chase and ESL. 

Over the course of two weeks, from July 30 to Aug. 13, at least 13 fraudulent checks with Vieau's name and account number were cashed.

The amounts ranged from $900 to $2,500. 

The checks were mailed and cashed by people all over the country including Mississippi, Virginia, Texas and Wisconsin. Sometimes different checks with the same number were cashed. 
News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "Those should be red flags right away." 
Janet Vieau, victim of check fraud: "Right. In this day of computers there should an algorithm that would flag it. Okay? Two checks, different amounts, same number, deposited on the same day were cleared." 

Vieau says Chase did notice a problem and contacted her. But when her ESL account was drained, Vieau's bank statement shows ESL tapped into her overdraft. 

Vieau closed her accounts. Both banks told News10NBC they are investigating and have reimbursed Vieau all her money. 

Irondequoit Police told Vieau they can't do anything because the checks were cashed in other states. So, News10NBC put together all the evidence and shared it with the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspector's Office. 

The U.S. Postal Inspector's Office is now investigating. 

"The Postal Inspection Service will carefully review the information provided and may share it with other agencies when there is a possible violation within their jurisdiction," Emily Spera of the U.S. Postal Inspector office in Boston wrote in an email. 

The FBI says the amount of money in Vieau's case does not need the agency's threshold to start an investigation.The FBI also mentioned that since Ms. Vieau was reimbursed by the banks, there is no actual loss for them to investigate. 

News10NBC is going to contact the New York State Attorney General's Office on Thursday. 

This is not a headache Vieau needs right now. She takes care of her permanently disabled adult son and she's recovering from two brain surgeries herself. 

"My brain is not working as efficiently as it normally would. The list of things that I have to do now is astronomical," she said. "I really wish there was someone that represented citizens that are faced with this type of dilemma."

That's what we're trying to do. 

We know many of the checks were mailed and it was in the mail that we got a break in our investigation. It happened when Vieau collected her mail when we were with her on Monday 

"Wow!" she said. "Turn on your camera."

On Monday, a woman in Nebraska who got one of Vieau's checks, mailed it and the USPS Priority Mail sticker back to her. 

The woman's name is Patsy Lopez. She did not cash the check. On Tuesday, we tracked her down at her home. 

Brean: "What did you think when you opened up that envelope and saw a check for $1,000?"

Pasty Lopez, received fraudulent check in mail: "I didn't know what to think."

Then, something strange happened. 

Lopez says a man she had been messaging on a dating site sent her another message. 

Brean: "What did that message say to you?"

Lopez: "It just said, 'hi honey. Did you receive the check yet?' I said, 'what check?' He said, .the one for $1,000. I sent it to you.' He wanted me to take the check and get a MoneyGram or Western Union and send it to some lady in Baton Rouge.

News10NBC is still trying to track that woman down. 

Lopez admits she really didn't know the true identity of the man she was talking to. 
Brean: "You think the information you have on him is bogus?"

Lopez: "Yes."

Brean: "Like a fake name, fake location."

Lopez: "Yes."

News10NBC also learned how some of the checks are connected. 

We compared the tracking numbers on the envelopes that mailed three fraudulent checks -- the one sent to Lopez in Nebraska, one to Virginia and one to Texas. 

All three were mailed within two minutes of each other on the same day at the postal service distribution center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Vieau is back in Irondequoit trying to figure out how this happened to her. 

"I want an organization like the FBI, like the Postal Inspectors to follow up with this," Vieau said. 

The banks say there's a couple of things you should do. For instance, sign up to get an alert anytime a withdraw is made over a certain amount. And report any suspicious withdraw right away because that's how you get your money back. 


Berkeley Brean

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