A $2,000 to $3,000 Christmas for a Salt Lake "visitor" has turned into a holiday nightmare for a number of local merchants.

United States Postal Service inspectors say a man posing as a mailman has been working a scam in several states that has resulted in substantial losses for merchants in several states, most recently in Utah during the Christmas holidays. The man is described as black, between 30 and 35 years old and 5 feet, 11 inches tall with short-cropped hair.Utah inspectors have a prime suspect in the case and obtained a federal arrest warrant for the man this week. Thus far, two federal and two state arrest warrants have been issued.

Gene Griffin, a Utah-based postal inspector, said authorities believe the man is currently in California. "We have a list of 20 names he has used and four social security numbers so it will take a little time to find him," Griffin said.

The man, dressed in full postal carrier uniform to create an air of legitimacy, goes to local banks, tells officials he has just been transferred to the area and opens checking accounts. The man then uses a printing mechanism to alter the blank counter checks issued by the bank to look like legitimate personalized checks. Then, still in full uniform, the man goes into local stores where he uses the altered checks to purchase expensive merchandise, usually appliances or jewelry.

The phony mailman has been linked to scams in Illinois, Nebraska, Washington, New Mexico, North Carolina and California. The losses in those cases have not been totaled but are expected to reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.

While in Utah, the suspect used at least two names, Tyrone Blakes and John K. Shiroma, the last one being the name listed on most of the checks. Inspectors believe the suspect used information from a purse stolen in California to obtain the Shiroma identification.

Impersonating a federal employee to obtain anything of value is a federal crime punishable by three years in prison for each separate offense. Unauthorized wearing of a letter carrier's uniform is also a crime and punishable by a term in prison or a fine.