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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Fraud, forgery and shoplifting; Police lieutenant offers tips on how businesses can avoid these ills

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fort Scott Police Department Lt. Travis Shelton gives a presentation on how businesses can protect themselves against fraud Wednesday morning at the Courtland Hotel.(Jason E. Silvers/Tribune)
A group of local retail business owners learned some tips on combatting fraud, forgery, shoplifting and other criminal activities taking place through the holiday season during a presentation Wednesday morning at the Courtland Hotel.

Hosted by the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce and led by Fort Scott Police Department Lt. Travis Shelton, advice was offered on protecting businesses against bad checks, credit card fraud, forgery and shoplifting. Shelton also talked about counterfeit money and the use of security cameras during the approximately one-hour talk.

The presentation also included information given by Judy Hood and Angel Wilson, representatives of the Bourbon County Attorney's Office, who talked about how the office handles worthless checks.

FSACC Executive Director Lindsay Madison said the idea for the informational meeting came about following a recommendation from Cheryl Adamson, co-owner of the Courtland Hotel, after some recent incidents of bad checks and credit card fraud that occurred at some downtown stores.

Madison added that last year there was an instance of a counterfeit $50 bill that wasn't detected in a downtown business that was later found to be fake.

Shelton, who has been with the FSPD for 16 years, said he has seen cases of forgeries, worthless checks, shoplifting, and counterfeit money.

"The most common (problem) is worthless checks," he said.

Shelton said he has worked cases involving someone stealing checks from another person, or making fake checks that resemble real checks. Cases of phony checks are "difficult to investigate," he said.

Hood, a diversion coordinator, said she works in the county attorney's office and collects worthless checks, a class-A misdemeanor, and files cases for court if necessary. Wilson is an office administrator who helps Hood with her duties. The two women went over the process for dealing with worthless checks paid for goods and services and information to obtain from the person writing a check.

Hood said basic information for businesses to collect when taking checks is the person's date of birth, their correct address and driver's license number.

"With a lot of checks, the person no longer lives at the address and there is no address change," she said.

Shelton added that is important to collect as much information as possible. When accepting checks, business owners should evaluate their store's policies and procedures.

"The one thing to take away from this is to get identification," and to train employees about the reason for this, Shelton said.

"Look at the card and the person; write the license number down," he said. "It's important to train folks how and why to get information."

Business owners should call law enforcement immediately in a case of a suspected fictitious check, Shelton said.

Proprietors may give the person who wrote the bad check some time to pay the money owed. If the person doesn't respond, the business owner can fill out an affidavit that includes information about the check. The county attorney's office also likes to know who accepted the check and tries to identify people should the case goes to court, Hood said.

Assistant County Attorney Valorie Leblanc files charges and the office tries to collect the money for the business.

Frank Adamson, co-owner of the Courtland Hotel, asked if it is the merchant's responsibility first to try to recover the money from a bad check. In response, Hood said after the business sends a letter and seven days pass, the matter should go to the county attorney's office and another letter will be sent to the person who wrote the check as a demand for the money.

In response to another question from a business owner, Wilson said the office can prosecute in cases of out-of-state checks. Another business owner asked how long it typically takes to receive the money from a bad check and Hood said it varies with each instance and depends on charges filed.

In talking about security cameras in businesses, McDonald's owner Mark McCoy asked if it is required by law for a business to notify customers they are under surveillance. Shelton said it is not a requirement.

"There is no expectation of privacy in the business," with the exception of restrooms, Shelton said.

More tips to avoid fraud offered

Tribune Staff Report

FSPD Lt. Travis Shelton shared more information on shoplifting, cameras and counterfeit money, as presented during a meeting hosted by the chamber Wednesday morning at the Courtland Hotel.

* On shoplifting -- More than $13 billion in goods and services are shoplifted each year. One out of 11 people shoplift. There is no profile for a typical shoplifter; local police have arrested or picked up people of various ages, from teens to people in their 80s.

"Many people are buying merchandise at the same time they're stealing," Shelton said.

The odds of a shoplifter getting away with the crime are "pretty good," Shelton said. Statistics also show that for most shoplifters, it's not their first time stealing. Most shoplifters are professionals who are "doing it for profit" and for a rush similar to that of illegal drugs, he said.

* On cameras -- Having security camera systems is a good idea and are suggested for businesses as they are potential deterrents to crimes.

"It's a slam dunk for cases in court," Shelton said.

Camera systems and their use can benefit police looking into a case as long as they do not interfere with the police investigation, Shelton said.

* On counterfeit money -- This does happen in Fort Scott. The pens that businesses use to mark bills are not always reliable, but are "fast and better than nothing," Shelton said.

Shelton said the best tool, according to the U.S. Secret Service, is to know the differences in how bills are printed and the different features printed on bills. Shelton said communication among merchants in a community is also an important practice.

Madison said the chamber sends emails to local businesses if a case of counterfeit money is discovered in the area.

In a suspected case of fake money, Shelton suggests that staff at a business stall the customer until law enforcement can be notified and given a description of the person and other information, keep the money until police collect information and can contact the Secret Service to investigate.

"That's our process," Shelton said.

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