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Crooks using homeless people in check fraud scheme, police say

FRANKLIN, Ind -- Franklin Police say they’ve become aware of a check fraud scheme that uses homeless individuals to carry out the crimes.

Police arrested Tyler Young on February 26 after he allegedly tried to cash a fraudulent $3,344.18 check at a Mutual Savings Bank branch in Trafalgar. Trafalgar Police say they quickly learned Young had already successfully cashed a check for $3,044.18 at a Mutual Savings Bank branch in Franklin.

Both checks appeared to be from the Town of Prince’s Lakes Wastewater Utility and were made out to Young. Police say both checks had been originally written and mailed to a Franklin business in the amount of $44.18. Both checks had been altered.

Young told police he and his fiancee are homeless and living on the streets of Indianapolis. He said he was recently approached by two men in a red Jeep who asked if he wanted to make some quick money.

“They’ll solicit these people who are in need, and they realize they’re in need, so that’s what they use to ask them if they want to make a few dollars,” said Franklin Police Lt. Scott Summers.

Young told police when the men took his name, he knew there was something “fishy” about the offer, but he got in the Jeep.

“He mentioned that he hadn’t eaten for a couple days, and he wanted the money to purchase some food,” Summers said.

“Tyler stated that the driver went by the name of "C," but he never got a name for the passenger,” a police report stated. “The passenger took Tyler's ID and used Facebook messenger to message his information to someone.”

Young went on to say he was dropped off at a mall on 38th Street and waited 15 minutes for the men to return and pick him up.

“Tyler was handed an envelope with checks inside that were made out to him from the Town of Prince's Lakes,” the report states.

Young told police the men drove him to banks in Camby, Franklin and Trafalgar, instructing him to go in, cash the checks, then bring the money outside.  Employees at the Camby bank refused to cash a check, but a teller at the Franklin bank cashed the $3,044.18 check. At the Trafalgar bank, a teller refused to cash the check and called police. When officers arrived, the red Jeep was gone, but Young was arrested nearby.

“The people who end up holding the bag are being used,” Summers said. “That’s the unfortunate part because the suspects are actually victims too.”

Summers believes the men behind the fraud must have grabbed at least one check from the mailbox of the Franklin business it was sent to. He believes they made several copies of the check and altered the name, check number and amount. He suspects the crooks have done this before, and will likely try again.

“It’s pretty despicable,” Summer said.

Chelsea Haring-Cozzi, Executive Director of the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention, says homeless individuals are too often targeted by criminals.

“Individuals that find themselves in a state of homelessness are often very vulnerable and may succumb to more predatory or exploitative behaviors,” Haring-Cozzi said. “And it really is heartbreaking because individuals that are experiencing homelessness are in a heightened state of vulnerability.”

Tyler Young was being held in the Johnson County jail, charged with two felony counts of check fraud. The men behind the fraud scheme are still at large. Anyone with information about this ongoing scheme is asked to call their local police department.

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