Homeless center claims residents were target of fraud

A New Orleans center serving the homeless, known as the Harry Tompson Center, claims that a number of its residents have been targeted in an identity theft fraud scheme. Its executive director says that homeless people staying at the shelter have been approached by unidentified people and offered cash payments if they will help negotiate the cashing of fake or purloined checks or assist in the handling of stolen merchandise.

Six residents of the shelter, at least, have recently gotten caught up in the purported scheme, with one of them arrested by police and subsequently convicted of having obtained money for a bogus check, resulting in a sentence of eight months of incarceration.

Homeless residents of the center reported being approached outside it by a man questioning them as to whether they have identification papers. Those who answer in the affirmative are then allegedly asked if they will agree to help in attempting to cash counterfeit checks, sell stolen metal such as copper to scrap dealers, or take stolen merchandise to stores, pretending to return it for a refund.

Those recruiting homeless people to participate in these activities reportedly abandon them without any assistance if they are caught, while sharing the proceeds if they are not caught and the efforts to obtain cash is successful.

Law enforcement in the East Baton Rouge area, over the past 12 months, has reportedly received reports about blank checks being stolen from local businesses and subsequently being presented for cashing after being filled out and signed by unauthorized people at local banks. A number of homeless individuals were accused of involvement in these offenses, with those arrested indicating that they were encouraged to participate in the scheme because, unlike some homeless people, they possessed valid state identification cards, essential when attempting to present checks to be cashed for substantial amounts.

An ongoing investigation is underway.

Source: NOLA.com, "Scam artists prey on New Orleans homeless in check-cashing scheme," Richard A. Webster, November 19, 2012

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