Bad checks from a Tulare County Jail

FRESNO, Calif.

The problem starts with inmates who have just been let go from jail. Many of them have cash with them when they're arrested and their money then goes into an account until they're released. Instead of getting cash back -- they get a check and sheriff's deputies say those checks are being altered and cashed in for more than they're worth.

Signs posted on South Valley businesses offer reliable check cashing services. But Tulare County Sheriff's Deputies say some of them are falling victim to a check fraud scam.

Sgt. Chris Douglass said, "We're really asking the merchants to double check everything when they see one of these types of checks come in."

Deputies say at least 15 fake checks have been cashed in Tulare County in recent weeks. Investigators are noticing a trend in the type of counterfeit checks that are being used.

"The checks that are most of the time being altered are checks that under five dollars," said Sgt. Chris Douglass. "And then amount's being altered to larger amounts."

Deputies are hoping to talk to 23-year-old Raylene Mejia who was last seen in the Visalia or Woodlake area. She's wanted for questioning in connection to the bogus checks but is not considered to be a suspect.

At a local gas station in Visalia -- people can cash their checks here. Owner Balwant Dhaliwal is well aware of the scam. In fact he discovered a bad check and handed the evidence as well as surveillance video over to the sheriff's office a couple weeks ago.

Dhaliwal said, "So this is your id? Then I'll scan it with the scanner."

Dhaliwal uses a sophisticated computer system that scans your ID, scans for a fingerprint and takes your picture. All of that is uploaded and stored into a computer within minutes.

"Also it keeps the record," said Dhaliwal. "Like if somebody comes in two years ago, he came again two years later than this holds the information. That helps a lot."

On Monday, Visalia Police arrested Lena Mendoza at the Kohls parking lot for identity theft, possession of stolen property and possession of counterfeit checks. One of those checks came from the jail and had been altered but not used.

If you have any information on these bad checks or Raylene Mejia contact the Tulare County Sheriff's Office.

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