SARASOTA, Fla. (FOX 13) - A group of alleged fraudsters has been arrested for using fake checks to take money out of bank accounts across the state of Florida.
One by one, deputies say they walked into a bank with a check, written for several thousand dollars, and take out cash.
However, the sheriff’s office says the checks were fake. Investigators say the group got away with this scam at banks across the state – possibly resulting in more than $300,000 in stolen funds.
One of the alleged victims is in a unique position to spot a scam a mile away. Gary Jodat, at the Jodat Law Group, has a keen sense of what's right and wrong.
Last year, a text from his bank set off alarm bells in his head.
“My information had been changed,” he explained.
He called the bank and discovered checks he never wrote. Thousands of dollars were missing from his account.
“The checks looked like my checks. They forged the signature,” he said. “They were counterfeit checks. Not real checks.”
The bank reimbursed Jodat, but he contacted Sarasota deputies to make sure there weren’t other victims. However, it appeared there were.
Sarasota Sheriff’s Office Captain John Walsh says similar cases led them to an apparent crime ring.
It starts with Wilfredo Lopez. Investigators say he would make the fraudulent checks with people's information and then hand them over to Eliener Castano-Paredes.
She allegedly had 12 people acting as runners. Their incentive: They would keep 10 percent of the check's value.
The group followed a pattern. Deputies say they traveled up and down the interstate, from Fort Myers to Brandon, making multiple stops a day to cash fraudulent checks at banks that were located just off the interstate.
“They would organize the check cashing by telling them, ‘I’m going to text you and all of you go into the bank at the same time, cash the checks. Come back out,’” Capt. Walsh explained.
Deputies say the group stole $130,000 from banks in Sarasota County before they were put in jail.
Captain Walsh says you can easily safeguard yourself from this type of fraud.
“Make sure you are going to the mail and intercepting any checks you might get as soon as possible. Limit the [number] of checks that you write anymore,” he said.
It's small steps that Jodat now takes. He's added even more safeguards.
“It really enlightened me to the fact that anybody’s credit is vulnerable," he said.
Deputies are still investigating. They say there are additional charges pending.