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    C-Store Owners Lose Thousands in Scam

    Payroll cashing swindle hits regional convenience stores.

    HARRISONBURG, Va. -- Food Mart employee here, Nadeem Afridi, will not be cashing any more checks for strangers. This is because last week, his brother, Waseem, was scammed out of thousands of dollars at the store he works for, in a check chasing scam that has hit numerous other stores in the area, the Daily News Record reported.

    The brothers told the paper that they have unknowingly cashed $5,574.60 in counterfeit checks, which appeared to be payroll checks from Cargill -- a local company. Fortunately, the brothers caught the phony checks the same day, thanks to a relative's warning. That relative, Tanveer Ahmed, also cashed fake Cargill checks at his First Choice Deli, according to police reports cited by the paper.

    Ahmed became suspicious of the checks, and held the customer in the store until police arrived. Officers arrested Yolanda Santoyo-Lopez and charged her with two counts of forgery -- a felony -- and uttering in connection with the attempted check cashing at First Choice Deli, Lt. Kurt Boshart, spokesman for the Harrisonburg Police Department, told the paper. She also faces an additional misdemeanor charge of providing fake identification to police. Boshart could not confirm that Santoyo-Lopez has any connection to the other incident at Food Mart.

    When reviewed, the checks, a dozen in all, had the same serial number with no variation in the bar codes, Waseem Afridi told the paper. Each check was made out to a different name, which had a corresponding fake Cargill employee identification.

    Waseem Afridi told the paper that he hopes the police will catch the people involved. "I want [the police] to take this serious. It takes a long time to make $6,000."

    A spokesman for Cargill told the paper that the company is assisting police with the investigation.

    This scam involving counterfeit payroll checks is similar to others that have targeted stores in Broadway and Stanley, Va., earlier this year. In March, DR's Quick Stop, located in Stanley, Va., cashed nearly $30,000 in fake checks that were counterfeited to look like payroll checks from a large local company, store owner Gary Breeden told the Record.

    Meanwhile, four men pleaded guilty at the U.S. District Court in Roanoke, to authorities' claims of running a counterfeiting ring and cashing forged payroll checks. That scam allegedly passed $45,000 in bad checks at Rockingham Heritage Bank and also recruited illegal aliens from Los Angeles to cash the checks in Virginia, according to an attorney dealing with the case. While the original ring may have been broken up, the attorney told the paper that others may be copying it.

    Later, Mac's Superette in Fulks Run cashed $944 in checks that looked to be from Pilgrims Pride, storeowner Bob Mullin told the paper. In addition, Broadway Supermarket owners also admitted to cashing a bad payroll check at that time.

    Stores are advised to leave check-cashing to banks, or to only cash checks for those customers they know and trust, Boshart told the paper.

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