Woman charged with trying to cash counterfeit check at Super One Foods
A Minneapolis woman is at the center of a multiagency investigation after she allegedly tried to cash a counterfeit check for more than $900 Monday at Super One Foods in Grand Forks.
It wasn't the first counterfeit check or even the second that Paula Ann Griffin, 46, is accused of cashing at the same grocery store, authorities said.
Griffin is suspected of cashing two counterfeit checks at Super One in December before her alleged attempt to do it again Monday.
But this time, a store employee said she recognized similarities between the counterfeit checks cashed in December and the one Griffin attempted to cash Monday at the store. The store's customer service manager was able to stall Griffin long enough for Grand Forks police to arrive, and they subsequently arrested Griffin.
The employee, Michelle, who didn't want her last name published, said Griffin had an item from produce and asked for a carton of cigarettes when trying to cash what at first appeared to be a legitimate paycheck.
"I recognized some features on the check from previous ones that were taken," Michelle said. "The address of the individual was the same, or very near the same as the previous (counterfeit check). And the typing on it, it was something that just jumped out at me."
But Michelle didn't panic."I took the check, and I stalled her by basically telling her I didn't have enough money in my (register) to cash it. Then, I got somebody else to get me some money and basically call 911," Michelle said.
Then, Michelle continued to help other customers while waiting for police to arrive.
"She was getting agitated, I could tell," Michelle said. "Then, she asked for the check, and I had taken her (identification) and put it all down on it. She was leaving, walking through the exit. I do believe that's when the police picked her up."
Griffin's vehicle was seized, and police said she had check manufacturing equipment, several counterfeit checks and 14 fraudulent Minnesota driver's licenses in her possession.
Griffin is charged with attempted theft, unauthorized use of personal identifying information and counterfeiting. She's being held in the Grand Forks County jail on $30,000 bond.
She'll likely face more charges as the investigation continues, said Detective Mike Flannery of the Grand Forks Police Department. Grand Forks police and the FBI are investigating because there's a possibility of multistate criminal activity, Flannery said.
Flannery said there are a couple of similar open cases against Griffin in Minnesota.
"This is not someone doing it for the hell of it," he said. "This is a career for her, based on the sophistication of the fraud."
Among the counterfeit checks retrieved by police are two fake checks from legitimate Grand Forks businesses, as well as fake checks from Fargo businesses, including the one from Monday. There are counterfeit personal checks as well.
"This is not so much passing through (Grand Forks), as it is doing a route. We fully believe she's part of a larger counterfeit checking ring," Flannery said.
He said the investigation could easily snowball into several states and involve thousands of dollars.
"We don't see stuff of this level very often, maybe once a year," he said. "It's mostly check forgeries, not counterfeit checks, and generating fake IDs to back them up. And these are pretty good driver's licenses. A person wouldn't slow down to question them."
The 14 driver's licenses had the names of real people -- men and women -- on them, Flannery said, most of whom he's been able to contact. He advised the victims to check out their credit history and also to contact the Grand Forks Police Department if issues arise related to the counterfeit checks.
There aren't many things businesses can do to be completely safe from these kinds of checks, Flannery said.
"Make sure to check identification," he said. "If you have any questions, contact the business it's from, but don't call the number on the check. Look the business up in the phonebook and call them. Verify the person is employed there and that this is an actual check."
Financial crime is rising in Grand Forks, Flannery said. And, because of the recession, he said he expects it'll get worse.
"I fully expect we'll get more of these traveling people come through, so businesses have to be vigilant," Flannery said.