Local businesses targeted in check fraud scheme

Posted: Thursday, September 30, 2010

The scheme went something like this:

Call a store to ask how much a laptop, camera equipment or other items would cost, write a check that traces back to a fictional business, send two women into the store with the already written check, get the merchandise without actually paying for it.

Variations of the above sequence happened to at least six businesses in the central Kenai Peninsula region this month, leading to the Sept. 22 arrest of 36-year-old Nikiski resident David W. Henry. Henry's alleged fraudulent check heist involved at least $7,000 of merchandise, including a still-missing 2005 Polaris Scrambler 500 four-wheeler, according to Soldotna police.

Darren Bearup, the general manager of Radio Shack in Kenai, remembers the two women who passed the fake check.

"They were dressed fairly decent, but they didn't want to look directly at us," Bearup said.

They purchased a laptop for around $600 with a check that looked real. Except when the store attempted to cash the check from Ranson and Sons Fishing Fleet, a fictitious company supposedly based in Homer, Bearup realized the sale was a bust.

"Now our policy has changed for business checks. We are going to be approving businesses that have been dealing with us in the past, but new businesses are going to have to fill out an application with us," Bearup said.

The store does not accept personal checks.

In addition to Radio Shack, Computer Renaissance, A-1 Enterprises, M&M Supermarket, Fred Meyer and Alaska Industrial Hardware were also targeted, according to SPD.

Brandi Pennison, Alaska Industrial Hardware's manager, said her store lost about $700 in a fraudulent transaction. She said the check appeared to be a large, business check and passed the store's typical inspection.

"There really wasn't anything we could do," Pennison said. Now the Kenai store will require a manager to sign off on all checks. Pennison watched surveillance video of the women and was surprised by their attitude.

"One of them seemed pretty flirtatious," Pennison said, explaining the woman asked a male employee for his telephone number.

"They seemed pretty talkative and causal."

Police first heard about the fraud on Sept. 10, and investigated the matter for two weeks, before arresting Henry in the alleged theft. The two women apparently part of the scheme have not been arrested, "because we are continuing to investigate their involvement in the matter," according to Soldotna Police Chief John Lucking.

Sgt. Duane Kant said businesses should be careful about accepting checks.

"In this day and age, if you are going to take a personal check, ask for ID and make sure you can verify the person passing the check," Kant said.

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com.

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