Man targeted in phony check scam

August 11, 2009 6:57:03 PM PDT
A San Jose man caught up in a scam wants to get the word out: don't fall for the fake check scam. The fake check scam is a favorite among conmen. They send a phony check to a consumer and then convince them to cash it. 7 On Your Side has reported on this type of scheme before, but this time the repercussions are dramatic.

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Timothy Thomas has owned a condominium in a San Jose complex for 14 years. He retired from Lockheed after 25 years, and is active in his nearby church.

Not the kind of guy you would expect to be accused of forgery and theft.

"It is my fault. I should have looked into it more, you know, I should have looked into it more and I didn't," said Thomas.

His problems began with a sweepstakes letter that read: "you are entitled to the lump sum of $55,000."

The letter came with a check for $3,875.00, so taxes could be paid. There was a phone number and Thomas called it.

"She answered the phone and said it is legitimate Mr. Thomas, you have won $55,000. I'm going ,'yeah, thank you Lord,'" he said.

It was a scam, but Thomas says he fell for it, cashing the check at a local market. Since he cashed his check, the rules have changed, but back then, it was cashed no problem.

Instead of the sweepstakes winnings, the police arrived.

"The Lord said, 'I didn't send you that check Thomas. Sorry, that one isn't from me.' I spent the night in jail met a few people, had some nice spaghetti," said Thomas.

The check was a phony.

"While we hear that defense sometimes, it can often be disproved as not true," said Santa Clara County Supervising Deputy District Attorney JoAnne McCracken. "Timothy Thomas' case is pending right now, so I am not going to discuss any specifics of his case."

Ok, but how did Thomas end up in a criminal case? Shouldn't he just pay back the money? Again, McCracken won't talk about his situation, but says it all comes down to intent.

Did Thomas intend to take money that he knew was not his?

"I learned not to cash any checks, to call first," he said.

Call the bank, he says, the one the check is written on.

Thomas still hasn't gone on trial but he is making regular restitution payments.

McCracken says that's always a good thing.

"If you are willing to pay the money back, a judge will be very lenient on the sentence. If you show remorse, pay the money back you might get a very good disposition," she said.

We'll see and we'll tell you, the case is being put off while Timothy makes those payments. Bottom line, you can get nailed for more than just the money if you cash one of these checks, so don't do it.

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