Shoulder Surfers and Rubber Checks Drive Up Crime in Crown Heights

By Sonja Sharp on February 26, 2013 8:24am 

 Officials with the city's Department of Consumer Affairs set up paper shredding stations around New York City Sunday to protect residents against identity theft.
Officials with the city's Department of Consumer Affairs set up paper shredding stations around New York City Sunday to protect residents against identity theft.
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Flickr/incurable_hippie

CROWN HEIGHTS — Crafty criminals are giving Crown Heights residents a run for their money.

A growing number of Central Brooklyn identity thieves are using homemade checks to cash in at local banks and ATMs, police said.

"The one crime we're seeing a huge increase in is fraudulent checks," said Deputy Inspector John Lewis of Crown Heights' 71st Precinct.

In fact, of the 49 grand larcenies reported in the precinct for the past 28 days, 29 were cases of identity thieves passing fake checks.

Armed with home scanners and basic photo-editing software, scammers print fake checks that look and feel like the real thing.

Some use their paper riches to open bogus accounts with phony IDs, withdrawing the balance from an ATM the same day before banks get wise.

"The stupid ones use their real name, but most of the time everything is fake," said a police source familiar with the crime.

Other crafty scammers sidle up behind ATM users to eyeball the name on their card and their PIN number, a technique known as 'shoulder surfing.'

Thieves then take that information to the victim's bank, where they pass off a fake check made out to the victim along with a sob story about a lost ATM card.

When the bank issues a new card, the thief quickly cleans out the victim's account and vanishes without a trace. 

"It's very low tech, but it's very effective," the police source said.

Police have seen an increasing number of fraudulent checks popping up around the precinct, where grand larcenies jumped nearly 25 percent in 2013 as compared to the same period in 2012. Though some cell-phone grabs and chain snatches also fall into that category, identity theft now makes up the lion's share.

"It's a crime that's increasing and it's difficult for us to catch," Lewis said.

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