Woman arrested after unknowingly cashing fake check
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- These days there are plenty of people who turn to the web when looking for work. But you can't trust every job offer that comes your way. Tonight we have a Contact 13 Consumer Alert from one Las Vegas woman, who instead of landing a job, landed in jail.
"I'm calling my mom and saying I'm in jail... not a pleasant experience," said Melissa Hatfield.
She says it's a day she'll never forget. It was may of last year, Melissa was walking to her house in Henderson, and had taken a different bus than usual. So she stopped to ask someone for directions.
"And a cop had pulled up. He flashed his lights and said, 'what are you doing?'" says Melissa.
She said the officer asked for her ID and she willingly handed it over. And it was then that Melissa learned she was under arrest for three felonies: burglary, forgery and theft.
"I'm like 'What?' He goes, 'there's a warrant out for you.' I didn't have any idea what he was talking about. I'm like, 'you've got the wrong person,'" said Melissa.
But she was exactly who police were looking for. So what happened? It all started in 2011. Melissa had applied online for numerous jobs, including work as a secret shopper. And in November of that year, an envelope arrived with a surprise inside.
"I opened the thing and a check pops out, pay to the order of Melissa Hatfield," she said.
It was a check for nearly $2,000. Along with a letter claiming to be from the Target Corporation, saying they were giving Melissa a position as a mystery shopper.
"It sounds legit, you know," says Melissa.
She was instructed to keep $350 for herself. The rest would be spent on two assignments. The first one required making a secret shopper purchase at another retailer.
"And the other was to go to Western Union and wire like $1,500," says Melissa.
What Melissa didn't realize, was the check was fake. So a few weeks later, since she didn't have a bank account, she cashed the check at a local casino. Once she had the money, she tried emailing someone for more specific details about her job. But that's where she ran into a dead end.
"I tried like everyday for a week. 12.11 to get the instructions," says Melissa.
For some reason, Melissa never heard back. And instead of wiring some of the money, she ended up keeping the cash. But here's the problem. When it was learned the check was fake, the casino filed a complaint with Metro police and a judge issued a warrant in February, 2012.
"These each carry significant prison time. This isn't just a small matter. She could easily face more than 20 years in prison," said Melissa's Attorney, Chris Keller.
He eventually worked out a deal with the District Attorney's office. And he says after Melissa repaid the money to the casino, the charges were dismissed.
"But the problem is 3 felony charges sit on her record. They will always be present on her record even though they show as being dismissed," says Chris.
Melissa says that's why she chose to talk to Contact 13. She wants everyone to learn from her mistake.
"If somebody sends you a check and like me, you think it's something you signed up for online, research it fully," said Melissa.
So here's the Contact 13 bottom line: Thieves have become really good at passing off these fake checks. And they always ask you to wire back some of the money, because it's virtually impossible to then track them down. So if you get a check in the mail from someone you don't know, ask your bank, or the check cashing location, to verify if it's legit.
We did reach out to Target about this case. They wouldn't comment, but did say they want to hear from anyone who gets questionable emails claiming to be from the company.