A Champaign man is accused of creating and trying to cash fake payroll checks purporting to be from a downtown Champaign business. Police say business owners need to monitor their bank accounts closely.
CHAMPAIGN — Jeff Brandt said a fake payroll check that supposedly came from his business wouldn't have bounced had it been cashed.
"But it would have put me in a bind," said the downtown Champaign businessman.
The owner of Exile on Main Street, a record and video store at 1 E. Main St., said he was grateful to the city of Urbana employee who found the check on the ground somewhere in downtown Urbana and called him on Aug. 19 to ask him if he'd lost it.
"I was confused. I had no idea what he was talking about. I asked if he could bring it to me because I was concerned, obviously," said Brandt, who has owned and operated his store since November 2004.
What he saw was a fairly realistic looking payroll check in the amount of $861.77 made out to Brian Dunbar. Brandt's business name was at the top and the maker who signed it was Mon Mothma, which, it turns out, is a character from "Star Wars."
Brandt instantly knew the check was bogus and didn't panic. But when the phone rang a few days later and an employee of the Illini Currency Exchange asked if Dunbar worked for him, he gave an adamant no.
As he was explaining to the employee about the other bogus check, the man who tried to cash a second Exile fake payroll check for $859.05 took off without any money.
Having provided a driver's license identifying himself as Brian Dunbar, police were able to locate him within a few hours and arrested him. He was charged Aug. 27 with felony deceptive practices.
The allegations against Dunbar are not particularly remarkable in terms of ingenuity.
Champaign police Investigator Pat Kelly said what happened to Brandt happens fairly often and he has a stack of similar cases on his desk to prove it. About the only thing business owners can do to protect themselves, he suggested, is to check their bank accounts frequently.
Kelly, who's earned a reputation as an expert in financial paper trail crimes, said there are a couple different ways these kinds of cases happen.
"The bad guy looks through the phone book, sees a business and creates a fake check by making up a routing number, an account number and a bank name. These are ... things that don't go together. That's one way it could be done," he said.
The other is if a person makes a photocopy of a legitimate business check that would contain all the bank information needed for a thief to "clone" the check, he said.
Kelly said with high quality printers and the common availability of check stock at any office supply store, it doesn't take much for a scammer to set up shop.
"As a business owner, the only thing you can do is monitor, cross reference checks, and make sure you balance your checkbook. It takes good bookkeeping and if something shows up that isn't right, immediately notify your financial institution," Kelly said.
Kelly said such problems often occur with currency exchanges because they tend to cater to folks who don't have accounts at established banks where such forged checks would be more readily detected or employees would be less likely to accept a payroll check from a non-customer.
"Look early. Look often. Verify, verify, verify," the detective warned.
As for Dunbar, 21, of the 300 block of East Green Street, Champaign, he's now charged with a Class 4 felony and is due back in court Oct. 8. Having no prior convictions, he was released on his own recognizance. If convicted, the maximum penalty is three years in prison.