Thursday, December 8, 2005

Sheriff’s deputies nab forgery suspect
• Businesses beware, sheriff says

Staff Writer

A Memphis woman was arrested early Saturday morning by Marshall County law officers and charged with uttering forgery and identity theft, according to sheriff Kenny Dickerson.

Portia Thompson, 42, is in custody at the county jail and charged with numerous counts of uttering forged checks and identity theft and with violation of a parole warrant from Kentucky, he said.

Authorities tried for two months to locate Thompson after several businesses in the county reported taking the checks. Thompson was identified from surveillance video cameras at one of the local businesses, Dickerson said.

Two other suspects thought to be associated with check forgery rings are being sought, according to Sheriff Dickerson.

He said both personal checks, intercepted between the source where checks were printed and the mailbox of the customer, and business checks were forged from victims’ accounts in Tennessee and Mississippi. The investigation has widened to include Alabama and Arkansas, he said.

“Investigators spoke to several of the victims by phone and learned that most all of them had ordered checks through the mail and never received them,” Dickerson said.

“Our investigators plan to meet with other law enforcement agency investigators and with the postal inspector for this area to discuss other charges.”

Fraudulent checks allegedly passed by Thompson and recovered, so far have reached a total of about $100,000 in goods and cash, the sheriff said.

“By the time the victims were made aware of the stolen checks, several checks would be fraudulently written on their accounts,” Dickerson said. “Six businesses within Marshall County were hit with these fraudulent checks in the last two months.

“It actually started off as a single incident and the latest was a furniture outlet in Holly Springs where the suspect cashed a check for about $3,200.”

Most frequently, but not always, small businesses were the target. Merchants usually cashed checks in the $500 range and usually were targeted on weekends when banks are closed, Dickerson said. The suspect often wore disguises, wigs or big hats that would protect the face from store surveillance cameras, he said.

In at least one incident the suspect allegedly stole business checks from a small car dealer.

“Sometimes checks are stolen from a business while someone distracts the salesman and one of the others will go in and take blank checks from the back of a business checkbook,” Dickerson said.

He said Thompson had in her possession blank personal checks on three or four different accounts and several laminated photo identification cards with her picture and the victim’s identity information on them.

“With the holiday season here, businesses need to use caution when accepting out-of-town checks,” he said.

Area businesses needing more information or assistance can telephone the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department at 252-1311.

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