Several arrests and bags full of stolen checks and identification cards have made police confident they have interfered with a high-tech forgery ring.
West Valley detective Steve Humphrey said as many as a dozen people may be involved in a forgery operation that has affected virtually every jurisdiction in the Salt Lake Valley. The ring has become increasingly proficient in its operation - using check imprinting machines and laser printers to make forged checks look more legitimate.Four or five recent arrests have given police a better understanding of how the ring operates. Humphrey believes much of the money netted through the stolen check/stolen identification ring is being spent on illegal narcotics. "None of these people are clean, one-owners," Humphrey said, referring to previous arrests on the records of several of the people who remained jailed Thursday on forgery charges.
"I personally think it's just the tip of the iceberg," said Sandy detective Mike Fahey. Too many businesses and individuals make the forgeries easier by leaving wallets, purses and checkbooks unguarded in businesses or in cars that are easily broken into, he said.
The first leads in the operation were developed about five weeks ago when a West Valley landlord visited a house where the occupants were not paying their rent. He later led police to duffel bags and suit cases at the house that were filled with checks, credit cards and other forms of identification that helped tie several cases together.
Many of the recovered checks that were stolen from a business or individual were made out to another person, whose stolen identification was used by one of the forgers to cash the check. Grocery store check-cashing cards are a favorite among the ring because they have no picture and are often accepted at the stores without any accompanying photo identification.
"They definitely know what they're doing from the volume they're getting," Fahey said of the forgers.
Even after some of the suspects have been arrested, checks that police believe were forged by those suspects keep surfacing. This indicates there is a lag of as long as two weeks between the time checks are stolen and cashed and the time the fraud is reported to police, Humphrey said.
Humphrey said he's lost track of the number of stolen cards he has taken into evidence since counting more than 250 from about 35 victims identified one month ago.
He and Fahey both have warrants they are processing with the Salt Lake County attorney's office with the hope of arresting additional suspects.