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Police searching for suspects involved in check washing scheme

NORCROSS -- Authorities are hoping to catch up with several suspects they said used a check washing scheme to bilk a Norcross business out of thousands.

The three suspects identified on Wednesday, all from Atlanta, are Keith Edward Thomas, 46; Vincent Antonio Scott, 17; and Manfred Ludovic Michel, 56.

Norcross police Capt. Brian Harr said he believes there are arrest warrants for two more individuals.

According to police, the suspects pilfered several checks mailed from a Norcross business to Lilburn. It is unclear exactly where the checks were stolen from or how the alleged thieves had access to them.

In all, eight checks totaling $7,700 were stolen, reproduced and cashed at Cobb County Wachovia branches in early January.

The first stolen check, originally written for $140, was altered and cashed for more than $1,000, Harr said. This isn't unusual, though perpetrators sometimes leave the amount untouched so as to escape notice during routine bank statement inspections.

"There are so many different schemes but this is one we see," Harr said. "Chances are, the people who stole the checks are not the same ones who cashed them ... they'll send a crew out to steal mail and another will wash it out."

With check washing, hoodwinkers erase the handwritten parts of a check, often using household chemicals or cleaners. They then make the checks out to themselves or someone else to cash.

Homeless people are often recruited to do the cashing, police have said, in exchange for a portion of the money.

Check washing and other forms of check fraud are responsible for millions of dollars lost each year.

Authorities offered a few tips on how to avoid becoming a victim:

* Do not put outgoing bills in an unattended or unlocked mailbox. If possible, take them to the post office.

* Minimize the number of checks you write.

* When writing out checks, use a gel pen, preferably with black ink, that will permeate the check's fibers.

* Do not leave blank spaces on the check.

* Immediately shred cancelled checks or keep them in a secure location.

* Review your bank statements immediately.