Con artists armed with bad checks have stolen thousands from at least four victims near campus banks within the last two months.
In each case, the con artists approached the victims, asking them for help. The con artists told the victims they desperately needed money and asked if they could write checks for the victims to go inside and cash.
The victims obliged, cashing the checks against their own accounts and handing over the money to the strangers, only to find out – sometimes weeks later – that the checks were invalid and that they could be held accountable for the missing funds.
The most recent incident was reported to police last Wednesday outside of the Michigan Union. According to the report, a man approached a student and said he needed money for an emergency flight home but had lost his ID. He wrote the student a check, which the student cashed inside the Union. The student then gave the man the money. Later, the student found out the check bounced because the man’s account lacked sufficient funds.
Another suspected fraud attempt occurred last week when a stranger approached a student outside a bank near campus. While speaking with the stranger, the victim realized that a teller inside was paying particular attention to the situation and became suspicious. The victim did not cash the check and the suspect fled.
Another victim was approached in front of TCF Bank on South University Avenue and two others in front of National City Bank on the corner of South University and East University last August. According to police, all the victims have been young people.
Sgt. Richard Kinsey of the Ann Arbor Police Department said the three incidents in August could be connected.
If they are, last week’s crimes showed the criminals are back in the area.
The August crimes were not reported until September, presumably when the students received their account statements, Kinsey said.
Two of the instances in August involved $7,000 checks, while an $8,000 check was cashed in the third incident.
Though the victims didn’t break any laws, they are stuck with the bill. Like many other banks, TCF does not provide customer compensation in this type of fraud case.
“There is no difference between the person who is standing outside trying to steal from us and the person who is helping them,” said Buffy Adams, TCF’s vice president of campus banking.
Kinsey and Adams said they haven’t seen this specific type of fraud in Ann Arbor before.
“Most scams target greed, but here we’ve got people who are trying to do something good for someone else,” Kinsey said. “Then they realize that the check is bad and they are on the hook for the money.”
Campus crime is cyclical, he added, and the AAPD often sees spikes in incidents like these in the fall and the springtime.
“Kids are moving around and sublets are coming in – there’s just a little more confusion around these times of year,” Kinsey said. “Everyone’s got money in the fall because they have to buy different things.”
TCF Bank offers tutorial courses on banking that cover fraud-prevention measures. National City spokesman Bill Eiler advised students to use common sense: Don’t cash a check from anyone you don’t know.
“The reason that this is such a big deal for us is because we have such a wide student-customer base on campus,” Adams said. “Our college customers are some of our best because they are so careful because they don’t want to do anything that would affect their financial future.”