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N4T Investigators: Check cheat - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Check cheat

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Tucson - Pete Valenzuela is 65, retired, and says he needs some extra money to support his two young children. Pete has a spare bedroom in his home, and went on easyrommate.com to try to rent it out. He was asking $400 per month, plus a $50 security deposit. Someone using the name "Janet Thomas" responded to his ad. After a series of emails, Pete received a cashier's check in the mail, for $2650.

“I figured she was going to pay for a whole while,” he told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, referring to the amount being more than five times what he was asking.

Then the sender emailed Pete, saying she had to buy furniture and that he needs to deposit the check and mail her back $2000. “Then a red light went off in my head and I figured something wasn't right,” he said.

Pete then asked for a money order, but 10 days later received another cashier's check. Pete knows both checks are worthless, part of a long-time scam. 

Here's how it works: scammers use high-quality printers and scanners to make the checks look real. They come up with a reason for writing the check for more than the amount due. The scammer asks the recipient to wire back the difference after depositing the check. The recipient does that, and later, when the scammer's check bounces, the recipient is liable to the bank for the entire amount.

Susann Miller of the Better Business Bureau says this scam is popular now in southern Arizona, and has advice for anyone who receives a check in the mail.

“I would definitely call the bank that it is coming from, so the originating bank, call and confirm that the account is a legitimate account. If you are really confident that it is a real check, don't do anything, don't sign any contracts, don't transfer any money, until you have the actual money in the account, and it is cleared,” Miller says. 

Valenzuela said, “I felt betrayed because I'm trusting someone to come into my home so it's very uncomfortable.I'm sad because I'm sharp enough to catch it but there's people that aren't, and those are the ones that get hurt.I have children, I can't have nobody that's a thief, a liar or a cheat.”

If you are selling something and accepting payment by check, the Federal Trade Commission says you should ask the buyer for a check drawn on a bank with a local branch. Then you can make a personal visit to the bank to make sure the check is valid. 
As for Pete Valenzuela, he's coming out of retirement,  looking for a part-time job, and has given up on renting that room. 
If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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