By AMY LINDBLOM
For the second time this year, Sonora-area businesses have unknowingly cashed phony travelers' checks, losing $100 with each transaction.
Thursday, a woman hit Cost-U-Less on Mono Way and Pak-N-Save. In each case, she bought about $20 in goods using a $100 Thomas Cook traveler's check and was then given change.
"The serial numbers on the checks were the same as the serial number of the ones passed in January," said Sonora Police Detective Kelly Bressel.
The woman who passed the two checks is described as a black woman, about 5-foot-1, 190 pounds, wearing khaki-colored capri-length pants and a white shirt. She presented identification saying she was from Oakland, but told store clerks she recently moved to Sacramento, Bressel said.
Bressel said she has been in touch with Sacramento-based Secret Service Agent Brady Mills, who reported that the counterfeit travelers' check scheme is a nationwide problem.
"But Mills said if the con artists are successful in a town they will return," Bressel said. "They were successful about 10 times in January and now they are apparently back."
In January store clerks said two women were passing checks a black woman and a Hispanic woman.
Bressel said it is relatively easy to spot the counterfeit checks because the borders on Thomas Cook checks are raised, whereas the phony checks are smooth, because they are made on a copier.
Stores can avoid taking in phony checks by following instructions on the back of each check to determine if the check is real, Bressel said.
Bressel has alerted all area stores and has them to call the Sonora Police (532-8143) if they spot any phony travelers' checks.
"Don't accept the check, and if the person is still there, call us, and we'll come right out," Bressel said. "But if not, if anyone can get a license plate of the vehicle these women are driving, that would be helpful, too."