Scammers' fake checks causing headaches for legitimate Bay Area business

Con artists are ripping off people in the Tampa Bay area, and targeting others across the nation. They're tricking them by claiming to be from a legitimate dock-building company in Apollo Beach, which is causing additional problems for the actual dock-building company.

St. Petersburg resident Martin Margheim was one of the first victims. He had to move and did not have room for his recliner. He listed it for sale on Craigslist for $900. 

A crook sent him emails and texts, then what appeared to be a cashier's check mailed from ‘Land & Sea Masters’ for more than $1,600 – that’s $900 for the chair, and the remainder for Martin to pay the movers who were supposedly coming to pick it up. 

"I deposit the check on my mobile app. It shows 'deposit.' As far as I'm concerned, I'm good to go," said Martin. 

However, the con artist claimed his cousin was in an accident, and suddenly needed the money for treatment at the hospital. 

"He had to back out of the whole thing…[he said], ‘Keep a hundred dollars for your troubles and return the money,’” Martin recalled. 

He wired the money from his bank account, then a couple of days later the bank notified him the check did not clear and his account was overdrawn. At that point, he discovered he’d received a fake check. 

"I don't assume everything that goes on in my life is wrong and is crooked," Martin noted. "You know you've been had and there's not much you can do about it."

This same scam is flooding the nation, with the hucksters claiming to be from Land & Sea Masters, which again has nothing to do with their scam. They even targeted the White House and specifically Vice President Mike Pence, who returned the bogus check to the real Land & Sea Masters in Apollo Beach. 

Meanwhile, the company is also getting flooded with complaints and returned fake checks across the nation.

“It gets a little crazy," said Joe Vath, who runs the real Land & Sea Masters. “They're getting brave. They’re getting very brave.”

Hillsborough and St. Pete detectives are trying to find who is really sending out these bogus checks

"The officer called it an excellent forgery. It really looked real,” said St. Petersburg police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez. 

She said this scam is also targeting small businesses in the area, and warned everyone to be aware of this scam and others like it. “Never assume you have a deal until the check clears.”